Lets talk about fear

Fear and love are mutual enemies. We cannot love God with all of our heart when we live in fear.

Can I talk about fear? You know, the kind of fear that surrounds us when we are up against the unknown. When I hear folks say they live in fear I just want to get out my magic wand and make it all better. Ahhhh. If only life were so simple!

As you and I read the Scriptures, we hear God pleading, we hear God admonishing, we hear God commanding us and hear God calling us to trust Him. I have noticed that if I am not too willing to trust God for the circumstance then I feel as if God is nagging me. God is really good at getting our attention. If we engage in His Word every day, we are sure to hear every single day in some form, to not be afraid. God’s deepest desire is for us to simply trust Him in everything. He stands at the door of our heart gently knocking and whispering: “It is I! Be not afraid!” [John 6:20]

You and I both know from experience that the Christian life is a constant battle between fear and trust. And God is not shy about telling us that we are going to experience two extremes fighting a war for dominance: anxiety vs. trust, and doubt vs. confidence.

Here is the challenge for you and I. We must learn [and continue to learn our whole lives] to not be shaken with fear. We must learn to not allow fear to seize our hearts and minds. If we do, it causes us to not believe God, or His Word. Luke 1:74 says that God wants us “to serve Him without fear all of our days.” Fear and love are mutual enemies. We cannot love God with all of our heart when we live in fear. God talks much about fear. He knows that it is an issue in our hearts. The word “fear” is used 385 times in the Bible [depending on the translation]. God expects us to understand the ramifications of fear left unchecked in our lives.

When you and I allow fear to be dominate in our lives, we cannot have faith. Faith will never grow in our lives. But what will grow in our lives is a trend downward. It begins with doubt, progresses to worry and then develops into fear. Think of it this way: Fear is faith in reverse. It is believing the words of Satan over the Word of God. That is the definition of spiritual fear: Believing Satan over God. Fear destroys the promises of God in our lives. Matthew 13: 58 (ESV): “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” There are no mighty works of great deliverance when unbelief dominates our thoughts and attitudes. Satan gets the de facto glory and the Lord Jesus Christ is relegated to the side lines of our life.

You and I can pray and search for discernment but until we are willing to relinquish our fear, we in effect binding God in chains. Fear always leads us to the altar of unbelief. Fear always builds unbelief. Unbelief is the root and essence of all sin. Unbelief always causes the heart to fall away from the living God.

For a more in-depth discussion of fear and its effect on you and I, check out this excellent article by Timothy A. Rowe titled:

Conquering Fear, Worry and Anxiety With Unshakeable Faith found at his blog site:

https://goodnessofgodministries.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/conquering-fear-worry-and-anxiety-with-unshakable-faith/

Crossroads

FAITH (strong, confident belief in God)

What does faith look like? Over the years I have found that faith is built at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

My wife and I spent three and a half years as missionaries in South Africa. During the first six months we were part of a Mission Development Team located on a primitive base. We left sunny southern California at the onset of warm summer and the next day arrived in Pretoria, greeted by the southern hemisphere’s starting of cold winter. The base amenities’ consisted of cold showers, poorly prepared food, cockroaches and no heat in any rooms. Everyday everyone got up when it is dark and we sat collectively in a freezing room wrapped in blankets while one of us led devotions. Then we each went back to our rooms to spend another hour in personal devotions; all before having coffee. Two months after arriving, I was standing early one bitterly cold morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal. Icy blasts of wind were blowing through the room like a sieve. My hands were wrapped around the bowl and I had my head over it to catch the hot steam. There just was not enough heat. I remember distinctly questioning myself “What on earth I was doing here?” This was not my picture of serving the Lord. This is not what I had in mind coming to South Africa. “Lord, did I make a mistake?” That was the first time I really started to examine my faith.

On any day in the year, somewhere in the world there is tragedy. The most common question asked is “Where is God?” People from assorted faiths were asking this question last year when 200,000 lives were extinguished in several minutes from a tidal wave and when an entire village of men, women and children were wiped off the face of the earth in less than a minute by a mudslide. My wife and I struggled with the same question two years ago when within seven months of being diagnosed with cancer, our oldest daughter who was an ardent Christ-follower, was dead. Where was God?

It is easy to say that I am going to step out in faith and trust God. It is not so easy to have my faith stretched. Walking in faith means that maybe I am going to be asked to do things outside of my comfort zone. Living in another culture means that I may have to worship with other Christians in ways that may be uncomfortable, or work with other nationalities who do not share my ways work should be accomplished or eating graciously food that is very different from what I like or expect, or doing ministry that seems meaningless in order to reach a people who show no appreciation.

I learned quickly the “knots” of faith: faith does not just drop out of the sky; faith does not just happen like magic; faith is not a result of my effort to believe.

It took more time to learn the “mean’s” of faith: faith means experiencing God under difficult times; faith means learning to go where you have never been before; faith means trusting God for the things that you cannot see, much less understand; faith means trusting God’s intentions [Is He always for me or is He out to get something from me?] and finally faith means that I believe that God is capable of producing results from things I cannot see.

It is easy to say “I trust You God” when things look good. But when I get into heart-racing situations those words can melt like butter. I think that faith may be one of the greatest human achievements possible. The test of my faith comes when I have lost control of the situation and am powerless to do anything.

The test of your faith will be when you encounter something beyond your ability to control. Will you suddenly have “spiritual forgetfulness”? Will you lose sight of what God has done for you in the past? Faith is really nothing more than a practice of choosing to trust God at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

Storms

The day was like any other day full of Jesus healing people and telling stories. And we were all tired. Jesus had told one story about a farmer and some seed that we were having trouble comprehending. But then Jesus said a lot of stuff to us that was difficult, sometimes just impossible to understand at the time. It was late afternoon when Jesus told us to go to the other side of the lake so we could get some rest form the pressing crowds. He had already secured a boat and was in it, waving to us to hurry up. Those of us who made our living on the water and could read the weather were nervous as we climbed in to this old fishing boat. All of us sailors have seen some sudden storms during our careers. A few of them, like these on the Sea of Galilee, can be violent and frightening and potentially destructive. This afternoon we can see that a storm is brewing and it would be dark very quickly. This trip did not seem like a wise thing to be doing.

Sure enough, we were not too far out in the lake when the storm moved over us. As with most storms on the lake they could increase suddenly and be life threatening. Our little boat with it sides low to the waterline was built for hauling in fish but not for keeping waves out. The wind picked up to gale force and high waves began to break into the boat until it was nearly full of water. The landlubbers among us immediately started losing their lunch over the side. It was difficult bailing and trying to hold on so that we were not tossed into the lake. And what was our fearless leader doing? Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Nobody wanted to go wake him. So we bailed and bailed but we were losing the boat. Here is the thing that was galling those of us who were sailors. There is an unsaid rule that when the ship gets into trouble everyone pitches in to help. Some of us murmured irritation that Jesus was not be pulling his weight and help.

Finally out of desperation we made the decision and some of us when back to wake Jesus up. It seemed like the storm even more in the time it took to get to Jesus. Frantically we woke him up, shouting at the top of our lungs to be heard, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” What happened next was, how can I put it, surreal! What we expected Jesus to do was wake up and see the mortal danger were in, jump up and help us. But no, this man did the opposite.
When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. It was absolutely freaky. The silence was deafening. We were stunned. A great fear settled among us. We thought that we had been afraid for our lives during the storm, even the sailors among us, but this? The only sound was the water gently lapping against the boat.

He stood up and looking at each one of in the eye asked us, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?” No one answered. There was a greater fear residing in our hearts. Jesus turned and stepped over to the side of the boat leaning over splashed water on his face. We turned to each other and were all whispering among ourselves, “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?”

A couple of days later, a fellow sailor I have known for many years asked me a question after I related what had happened a few days ago. He asked me “How did I know that Jesus was someone who cares for me?” What he was really asking was ‘why would I follow someone who put me into dangerous circumstances. I told him that it was a good question. We, his disciples had been wondering the same thing more than once. It was amazing to us, looking back at the night, that Jesus was sound asleep in the midst of a storm on a small fishing boat being swamped by the sea. We concluded that only someone who was completely confident of their abilities in their surroundings would be asleep in such a precarious situation. Further insight by Jesus as to his relationship with his Father helped us conclude that he trusted his Father implicitly. His being asleep in the midst of imminent danger contained the secret of something not readily apparent to us at first. He had no doubts or reservation as to his Father’s love for him. It was not something that he questioned. Frantically I and my shipmates had to yell at him over the noise of the storm to wake him up out of a sound sleep and instead of being annoyed he did our bidding.

The question Jesus asked has haunted me, as well as all of us. Looking back on my fear of the storm as I frantically tried to save myself, one thing is apparent. Jesus took away the immediate fear by removing the storm. But that left another greater fear in my heart. If this man Jesus can do what no other man can do and control a storm, then what can he do to me. He did not just control the storm, he eradicated it completely. There is a part of me that keeps asking questions. Can he control me? If I make him angry will he annihilate me? What are his intentions? Are they good?

I think that I have discovered something. Jesus asked two questions: “Why are you so afraid?” And “Do you still not have faith in me?” And the answer is in the questions! I am finding that when I am afraid I am not trusting Jesus. He has proven himself over and over again. [Wait till I tell you the pig story.] He has the power. So I am learning that I just need to keep my eyes on Jesus and not what is going on around me. So simple to do when I chose to do so! From the storm I learned that Jesus is far greater and more powerful than the storm and he is willing to take me through the storm. All I have to do is trust him enough to ask.

Words

Have you ever reflected on your history with God’s words? What are some words that seemed small when you began but have grown huge in your life? When I first allowed Christ into my life, theological terms like salvation, sanctification, servant and communion were mainly just words. As a new Christian I had almost zero experience of how God was or even could work in my life. For example, salvation seemed to be a one-time word signifying an event. But as the years rolled by and I kept stumbling along on my journey toward the City of God, I began to see and hear God and thereby experience His saving grace. As far as eternity goes, I am safely tucked into the arms of Jesus. But God is interested in my ‘here and now’ state of living. That is where my salvation is worked out day by day. But what is the Apostle’s concern anyway? I am certainly familiar with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Philippi: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” [Phil 2:12 NIV] Today as I was mulling over the implication of the word ‘salvation,’ I considered why he gave that exhortation to them and of course by extension to us?

Because I am one of God’s children, He wants me to be prepared. I see the world around me spinning out of control. I can pick up the newspaper on any day of the week and it is the same front page headlines: wars and rumors of wars. I see my friends and some in my family spinning out of control due to their looking to the culture around them for life’s answers. Few seek to look in the right place for life solutions. Before the Apostle Paul said “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” he made a very serious statement as a preamble to that thought: “Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  [Phil 2:9-11 NIV]

I have observed personally in myself and with other Christians tendencies to make Jesus too much like us. When Jesus was here on earth He appeared in the form of a humble servant. Now He is raised up to the throne of glory, seated on the right hand of God and to universal just and holy dominion. At some point in the future, when God deems there is an end to the wars and rumors of wars, the whole universe shall confess that Jesus is Lord. For some this will not be a pleasant experience. All those who have departed from this life without Christ as their Redeemer will no longer have a choice as to will be lord of their lives. The Apostle Paul’s warning is clear. Every single living creature, past, present and future, shall all acknowledge him as universal Lord. All will bow to His sovereign will. All will be subject to His control. All will recognize Him as Supreme.

Is it clear now what the Apostle Paul gives us the exhortation today to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling?” We who know the Lord Jesus and are related to Him will gladly fall on our knees and worship Him. We have learned to do that as grateful servants living in God’s grace. Not so the eternally damned; they will be forced by the power of God Himself to yield an unwilling homage to Jesus by submitting to the sentence from his lips that shall consign them to an unimaginable eternal woe.

So I am eternally grateful that God sought me out first. The words describing God’s faithfulness to me are words that bring joy to my heart. They are words that I have found to be true regardless of all appearance to the contrary.

A tribute …

IMG_1041

And there it was—the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was.

We have an awesome God as our Savior. Our American traditional Thanksgiving pales compared with the humbling thanksgiving we feel as we consider once again the love of God that is demonstrated through Jesus. From heaven’s throne to a dingy stable; God sent a gift that never stops giving!

This has been a busy year. It has been a year of elation, sadness, grief and then profound peace, in that order. Elisha [oldest daughter 46] was diagnosed with throat cancer last April. After treatment of three rounds of chemo and 35 doses of radiation, she was declared clear. That was the elation. She was on the mend physically and mentally. Then in September they discovered that the cancer had aggressively invaded her body; brain, lungs and bones. That was the shocking sadness. One month after that she died last Monday morning [11/25]. Eight months from diagnoses to her death. That was the grief. But there is more. That is the beauty of being in relationship with Jesus. Grief is not the end.

Elisha died, we know, in Jesus’ arms. She was at home with Kathe and I during the last six weeks of her life. She had been in a great deal of pain and as she got sicker, it became a maddening balancing act of trying to manage the pain but not kill her with the drugs.  Even though some awful physical events were happening during the last few hours of her earthly life, she seemed to be at peace. A couple of minutes before she died she opened her eyes. Kathe stood up and closed her eyes and told her “Keep your eyes closed and just rest.” She did and simply quit breathing, not gasping or struggling at all. Her face was truly beautiful.

Her death was such a marvelous witness to God’s love and mercy. I [Kathe, my wife] tell everyone about it, especially my non-Christian friends at work.  Glen and I had continually prayed for her healing, but if not, then to take her home quickly.  It was very, very quick.   We believe God orchestrated it from the beginning and we are very grateful to Him for His mercy to her and us. Kathe and I have been at the bedside and watched two people in our immediate family die. One a Christ follower and one consistently rejected Jesus. The difference in their deaths is phenomenal. The pagan struggled and seemed to resist death. There was a sense of fear present. Elisha struggle also and then just surrendered. She knew where she was going and with Whom.

What about the profound peace in the face of this? Oddly, we are looking forward to this next chapter in our lives. It is a “God thing.” Elisha is missed and this is a time for us of having moments of grieving. But we also have the opportunity to bring witness to others of God’s amazing grace in our lives. People who do not know the Lord Jesus [and even some ‘lukewarm’ Christians] wonder at our calmness in the face of tragedy. I personally tell people that I feel content. Yes I said content. I am content because I know that Elisha is now healed in mind and body. She is no longer in raging pain that overwhelmed her mind and body. More than that, she is with Jesus. We will see her again. Those who spend their lives rejecting Jesus have a different ending. When a relative died she and I were there during his final hours. His death was so different from Elisha’s. His was fraught with fear because he consistently rejected the Savior’s call right up till the moment his heart stopped. He died without knowing where he was going and to whom he was going to meet. Elisha died peacefully.

That brings us back to thanksgiving. We have a new appreciation for what God initiated over 2000 years ago. Rejoice and be thankful. It is all about the greatest gift known to mankind. And His name is …   

Jesus

Name above all names

Beautiful Savior

Glorious Lord

Emmanuel

God is with us

Blessed Redeemer

Living Word

Jesus.