learning to trust in God in real life

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Psalm 3

Some of us are more prone to anxiety and worry than others. I am, and my wife is not. She is just the opposite, which is nice, but also poses its challenges. There is good in being aware of dangers, and real problems, which might not be readily apparent, and trying to fix or deal with them, as best one can. But in my case, I find that a lot of my fears can be a direct challenge to faith. In other words, do I work at trusting in the Lord, or do I remain paralyzed in fear?

The psalmist was facing real dangers. They were bad things which indeed could happen. But it seems that the psalmist also came to rest in God, and God’s will, and within that, God’s protection, so that he could rest easily at night, confident that his life was in God’s hands.

For myself, I find that some good sleep can make a world of difference. I wake up refreshed, and feeling much better, what fears I had having dissipated. While the counsel we once received, to never act on our fears, or while we’re afraid, is sound advice we do well to keep, there may be some things we can do toward alleviating the problem, leaving the outcome to God.

But above all, we must trust in God, learn to trust in him. So that our hearts can be more and more at rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

our one safety: in God

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46

One of the most basic fears of humankind is the fear of death. In fact in Eastern Orthodox Christian teaching and liturgy, that fear is at the heart of our sin, the gospel in Christ’s death and resurrection having destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

I think most all of my lifetime I’ve struggled with the fear of death, and have not always made good decisions in the process. It’s not like we’re to be foolhardy, and careless, so that we live recklessly, thinking God has our backs (and fronts, and every side) not matter what we do. We want to act wisely and prudently, and make the best decisions we can. But in the end our confidence can’t lie in ourselves, or in anyone else, but in God alone.

This presidential election season in the United States has exposed, I think, what could possibly be, though I don’t believe in every case is, an idolatry at play on both sides, exposed well in this article.

Over and over again in my life, I find that the one refuge to whom we should turn is God himself. We turn to God through the gospel, through the word and the sacraments, through the church, through prayer, and through a basic commitment of faith and ongoing repentance. We are not assured in this life that bad things won’t happen, in fact we can be certain that difficulties, including persecutions from living for Christ, troubles from simply living in this world, and at last death, barring our Lord’s return before that, await us in this life. Of course God has not promised to remove us from the trials, but to be with us through them.

It’s not like we will no longer be subject to possible fear in this life, but that through faith in the gospel, worked out through daily being in the word, God will help us to find our one refuge in him. A large part of our life and witness in this life, as we look forward to the life to come when in God through Christ by the Spirit, we will live in an existence in which no fear is possible. A taste of which we receive in this life, brought to perfection and completeness in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

preparing for Holy Week

Father Michael Cupp pointed out to us something new to me, that Sunday began Passiontide, which is the last two weeks of Lent, ending on Holy Saturday, the next day, of course, being Easter. So that this week is actually to be a special preparation for the week that follows, the most important Christian holiday, or holy day of the year, and actually days at that, beginning with Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

This coming Sunday, Palm Sunday starts in a celebratory way with Palm branches being waved along with exclamations of Hosanna praise to Jesus. But it soon becomes somber as the hard reality sets in on just why Jesus had “gone up to Jerusalem” at this time. John 12:1-8 was the gospel reading for Sunday, Father Michael adding verses 9-11 to point out how the religious authorities wanted to kill Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead, since many Jews were believing in Jesus because of him.

There will be hate for our witness to Jesus, even if in our case in America it is largely if not completely confined to the hate of the demonic host, with our own demon seeking to snuff out both our witness to Jesus, as well as our very life in him. But even during those occasions, we can use them for drawing near to God in and through Jesus. Assured, as Father Michael thought it likely that Lazarus was assured (and not afraid), that God has our life in his hands, and that even in the trouble we face, God is working for our good.

The focus necessarily should not be on us, even though we along with the world become the objects of the subject we are focusing on. Our focus should be on the Lord and his sufferings during this time. What he went through, what this means for us and for the world both in terms of our salvation, sanctification and service, as well as judgment and new creation in him.

The hour was coming in which the Son of Man would be glorified, and God would be glorified in him. And oddly enough at the same time, the hour when darkness would reign, and Satan would have his way through Judas Iscariot with the Jewish religious leaders and Herod, along with Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers. It would be a terrible time when all the darkness of this world would be honed in on Jesus, but with the end result that the darkness is to be vanquised at last through his death and resurrection.

I had kind of an odd turn Sunday which has left me ill at ease, nothing that I haven’t experienced numerous times before. But such experiences are not easy to go through. But I receive it as part of what God can use to prepare me for Holy Week, and beyond, to have the grace with God’s people to share in Christ’s sufferings, that we together, along with all creation may indeed share in his glory.

grappling with the fear of death

On the back burner for many of us throughout our lives, sometimes, in fact all too often moved to a front burner is the formidable power, the fear of death.

Life is interesting as a human. We can get so all out of sorts over something, specifically here related to the fear of death- and that may last as long as a day, but then we’re back to some semblance of normalcy, to something more or less normal, even if the bumps and bruises of our close encounters with the fear of death render us not far removed, to haunt us again, at any time.

From Psalm 88 yesterday, I was intrigued by this line with reference to the fear of death:

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.

I had to wonder if we couldn’t apply this to us who over and over again, maybe too often a rule of our lives were plagued with the fear of death. The psalmist may have been writing as someone who actually did brush up against death a number of times. We may do so in our imagination. I am reminded of the passage in Hebrews about the fear of death.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Of course no one wants to die “before their time.” We would like to live a full life, age normally, and perhaps die in our sleep, maybe as a healthy centenarian. But there is nothing better than a life well lived, even if it’s short in length. I think of examples like Jim Elliot or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

What God has done for us in Christ can set us free, not from a healthy concern for life, but from an obsession over holding on to our lives. As important as our physical lives are, we might end up losing our soul in the process of holding on to life so tightly. We shouldn’t make long life and health concerns our main priority, something which along with anything else can become idolatrous.

Christ by his death destroyed the one who holds its power so that we no longer need to fear death, the last enemy to be destroyed. Death through Christ is always the gateway to resurrection. We see that in baptism in which we are buried with Christ into the likeness of his death and raised up out of the water into the likeness of his resurrection, so that we might live a new life. And we know that physical death is not the end. That resurrection awaits us, our bodies, in and through Christ.

We can know these things by faith, but still struggle. That is okay. We need to affirm what we know, and struggle on in prayer, that we might live our lives in a way which both treasures the life we live, but also sees life as fulfilled only in and through Christ. Our lives are a gift and good, but only temporary in this existence, and held to lightly for a greater good, the will of God, God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. That is what life is all about, what we are to live for, even our very life breath.

when full of fear (specifically, the fear of death)

Sometimes I experience fear, and plenty of it. Some things don’t unduly frighten me. I’m not really scared of dying, though like anyone else I don’t want to die “before my time.” Those who are Calvinists might think what we do in life, or fail to do, doesn’t factor in to how long we live. There is no doubt that some of this is cloaked in mystery. After all, no matter what, one’s life can come to an end any day and for a whole host of reasons. The death we often fear is the kind that may overtake us in time due to some disease, and our helplessness to do anything about it. Or precious very little. Of course we in Jesus believe God can heal in answer to prayer, regardless of how dire the outlook and prognosis may be.

A recurring fear for me is from the time I helped a brother (and sister) in Jesus avoid a fine from the city by getting work done on a Sunday, since it had to be done on Monday. He did not want to do that, but I talked him into it, “pulling the ox out of the ditch.” During that time it was thought that using sunscreen might increase the chances of one getting the most dangerous skin cancer, melanoma. So I opted to get an alternative sunscreen. Looking at the label, I saw it had some of the same ingredients which some attributed to a higher risk for melanoma. So I ended up not taking any sunscreen at all. We did get the needed work done, by the way.

It was as bright a sunshine day as you’re going to see. And in no time I noticed my skin turning red. They had no sunscreen and while I didn’t want to take the time to run home to get what we had, I didn’t think of the store not that far from there where I could have gotten it. So I burned good that day. I am rather dark, was especially so as a boy. But years not much in the sunlight make the risk of melanoma higher when one does burn. And subsequent studies have put the kibosh on the idea that sunscreen does not help melanoma. Of course if one goes out in the sun more just because they use more sunscreen, they might actually increase their risk of getting that, but for normal use, including the recreational times such as on the beach, there is no doubt now that the use of sunscreen is one important practice for preventing melanoma.

As our Pastor Sharon has wisely said, there is no way we can get rid of such fear ourselves. I usually research my fear online to try to find some good answers which may help me put things in perspective. And I end up usually having to accept the fear and go on. And sometimes in that process, I may end up with something of a deeper acceptance of my mortality, which in itself can be a good thing.  And by and by the fear dissipates and is gone, until perhaps some opportune time the enemy hits me with it again.

In Hebrews we read:

 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

We see that Jesus by his incarnation and death wants to free us from the fear of death by his own death. By Jesus’ death we no longer have to be slaves to the fear of death. We know that in the end, by and by, we all will die (unless Jesus returns before that time). Jesus by his death broke the claims death has on us, so that by faith we can live as those who share in his resurrection. The resurrection life, even now, and the resurrection of the body, to come.

When full of fear, I investigate, but then go on with life. The Lord always helps me. I wish I wouldn’t be hit with the same fear again, I wish I could overcome it to the point where such fear would be gone forever. While that might happen by and by, maybe the best hope is to grow in better handling it. To grow not only in spite of it, but even through it. Knowing that when all is said and done, we have nothing to fear in the end. Through Jesus our Lord.

getting rid of unwanted thoughts (my sunscreen, sunburn story)

“If only” are two words which haunt me. While they can haunt me in a number of ways, what I’m getting at in this post are the thoughts that come slamming into me, which I can do nothing about. Knowledge sometimes helps, but sometimes knowledge confirms one’s fears. I will share a story.

Years ago a brother asked if I would help him get some outside work done on his house. He needed to get it done by a certain date to avoid a fine. I readily agreed, and we spent some days (as I recall) working on it. They were cloudy, rather overcast days. My friend informed me that he had about one day of work left, but the next day was Sunday, and he didn’t want to work that day. I encouraged him to finish it- that I would help him pull the ox out of the ditch as it were. I was able to talk him into it.

Meanwhile, I had been reading some rather ominous preliminary findings on sunscreen being linked to cancer. Since that time recent studies in my view have rather debunked that, confirming the use of sunscreens (although I try to avoid sunscreens with certain chemicals). I went to a local health store, and found an alternative sunscreen, probably having some natural ingredients in it to neutralize the effect of radicals in the chemicals which I suppose were in most all, if not all the sunscreens during that time. I somehow found out with some more reading online, that at least one chemical in this new sunscreen I had purchased contained “free radicals” which may contribute to skin cancer when one is exposed to the sun. I didn’t reason at the time that the antioxidants (fruit or whatever was in the ingredients) might neutralize, and little did I know what I would face the next day.

Sunday morning I arrived, and for a change the sky was as blue as can be, and the sun was bright. In reaction to what I had read, I had actually thrown out the new sunscreen (evidently I had used some of it already, or had tried it on, so that I couldn’t return it) and had no sunscreen with me. My skin began to turn reddish color not long after being in the sun, unusual for me–I used to tan significantly as a boy, having a darker skin color to begin with, but for years as an adult had largely avoided the sun compared to my days at home as a boy. I asked the people if they had sunscreen and they did not. I wanted to go home to get the old sunscreen we still had, but that would take significant time, at least a half hour, and time was a premium with all we needed to do that day (I was strictly a helper, by the way; my friend did the critical work). And so I reluctantly stayed put, not remembering there was a store nearby where I could have purchased decent sunscreen.

We did finish the project, or at least enough so he knew he wouldn’t be fined. And I was burnt to a crisp, at least for me. I peeled on my lower face and on my arms. I did what I could to care for the burn, but too little too late. I had worn a rather wide brimmed hat, though rather light in color, which did give my upper head and face some protection.

I share this story because I have struggled off and on ever since with regret for not having put on sunscreen. At least some experts believe that the worst form of skin cancer, melanoma, is associated with sunburns, and that the risk for such is further heightened when one has been out of the sun, in other words intermittent (here and there) burns. And in my case, my father had a melanoma on his nose, which further adds to my risk of developing such sometime in life.

I think the devil has used this to fill me over and over again with fear. The fear might last for a day, or a few days, and then dissipates. But sooner or later it returns, in fact I surmise that the enemy has this story right in their files to take out and use on me anytime. I easily use it on myself. It has become and has been a source of weakness for me.

One passage I always want to return to is where Paul writes about taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. However in the context, he is speaking of his proclamation and teaching of the gospel, the kingdom of God come in Jesus, and defending his ministry which was under attack, so that I’m not sure how helpful that is for me. On the other hand, it might be most helpful, because our lives are to be lived under the authority of Christ, and by the gospel. The good news in Jesus is not just something to get us “saved.” That salvation continues and is to be lived in and lived out as a witness to the world.

There are a number of considerations which are good, and of course one needs wisdom. We in Jesus need the Spirit to help us hear from God in God’s written word, when we are troubled by this or that. What I would like is to get rid of such thoughts and attacks completely. To get over it and go on. I think over the years, particularly recent years, I have done better. But my heart can still be filled with fear. Another passage which addresses weakness comes soon after the passage linked above, about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” no less than a “messenger of Satan,” which tormented him. God did not answer Paul’s repeated prayer requests (three times) to remove it, but instead used it for good, to keep Paul humble and dependent all the more on Christ.

Of course I know that God can do whatever God pleases, and that God does answer prayer. We know a good number of things from scripture. I need to learn to rest more in God, in God’s word, and seek to be led by the Spirit in my thinking. As one who is in Christ, and a follower of Christ along with others. And as a witness to the world.

Would any reader have a word of counsel, or a story from your life you would like to share?

fear

Fear is a factor which hits our lives here and there frequently for a number of reasons. Here in the United States many are fearing another recession, in fact that is so in numerous countries around the world, as governments and institutions work (we hope) at getting their financial house in order.

A major fear is the fear of death. Scripture addresses that in no uncertain terms. Jesus came to destroy him who holds the power of death, the devil. And free those who all their lives have been held in bondage by their fear of death. And we read elsewhere that Christ came to abolish death, and to bring life and immortality to light through the gospel. And we know death doesn’t have the final word. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death, in and through Christ’s resurrection.

Another fear can be the fear of not being able to live in a way that is pleasing to God. Sometimes we are simply overcome with life. With all the problems we face, and issues at times with another, or others. Sometimes there seems to be no answer. We do know that this life in Jesus is lived fully in God’s grace. Not in our effort, or goodness, or right answers. Strictly and completely in God’s grace in Jesus. Through that grace God does indeed miraculously enable us to be pleasing to him. The Father is pleased over his daughters and sons in Jesus far more than we realize or imagine. He is pleased with our desire to be obedient children out of love. And over our struggles to find him and his will even in the midst of our confusion and despair.

God helps us by daily carrying our burdens. And also by helping us see the bigger picture. God in Jesus is King over all; his kingdom may seem underground now, even covert, but it is actively at work in this world. Destined at the appointed time to take over the world in the renewing of all things in Jesus.

In the meantime we can trust and not be afraid. And when we are afraid trust. In God in whom through Jesus perfect peace can come to us now over and over again. And will come in the end, and forever.