against fear

One wise person years ago said that we should never act on fear. All too often in my life, I have. And while I may think I did what I needed to in order to alleviate it, it would invariably not lift the cloud that was over me. I’ve learned that only God can do that.

Yes, we need to redirect our sight, as my wife has often reminded me, getting our eyes off our trouble and onto the Lord. And as she also has often said, it’s Satan. Yes, we’re in spiritual warfare no doubt. Good, important reminders.

It is interesting that the most often repeated command in Scripture is “Don’t be afraid” or words to that effect. I find in my own experience it’s like going on an interesting, but terrifying roller coaster ride. You hang on and hang in there. What choice do you have? The exhilaration may kick in at a certain point, or you may simply be glad that the ride is over. I did learn in my days of roller coaster riding, to enjoy the ride. But I think sometimes, depending on the ride, that would be quite impossible.

For me, I’m sorry to say, and sorry to disappoint you: there’s no easy quick fix. What change that may help us would surely be incremental over time through taking good steps like being regularly in God’s word, in Scripture, and doing what God has called us to do. I have found that it’s like a process one has to go through. Different stages come along like denial or trying to get rid of it, whatever. But when we come to accept it, and just do the best we can with God’s help, sooner or later the fear will subside.

Of course this includes trying to apply the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6, getting someone close to you to pray for you, being in God’s word and prayer.

We need to hang in there. God will see us through, giving us the wisdom we need, and ideally, a new lesson learned. God is at work in the mess. In and through Jesus.

beyond fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 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 4:16b-18

I remember years, now decades ago when I think the Dean of Men where I went to school opened his Bible as we sat in his office, turning to this passage. And with an emphasis on perfect love casting out fear, and spoke some on that. I can remember his tone of voice, and etched concern on his face, even if I can’t remember much if anything at all of what he precisely said. But I returned in my thoughts to that from time to time.

And now, relatively late in life, I do so again. Yes, I’ve believed this is truth, that it applies to me, but I often still struggle in regard to it. I think I understand much of the answer in my mind, but I’m afraid it hasn’t made much inroad into my heart. But even with that, I still have made sure progress in holding on longer what I believe in my head, so that I’ve experienced more of God’s breakthroughs of peace amidst the storm.

One way of approaching this which might be helpful is to seek to land and stand on truth. If we believe that the God who is love has made that love known through the sacrificial death of Christ, then we need to stand by faith on that truth, whatever emotions to the contrary we might be experiencing, including crippling fear. Our judgment has been taken care of through Christ, who took that judgment on himself at the cross.

The faith which is involved is not only about grasping and holding on to something: God’s word to us in Christ. But it’s also about letting go of what has bound and crippled, or at least to some extent has hampered us over the years.

Come what may, whatever we face, we need to stand firmly in this one place, that of God’s love for us in Christ. When we do so, we’re standing in the one true perfect love. And by and by we’ll begin to know something of the experience of that, something in itself that never depends on our own feelings, but where God wants us to learn to live. Away from any feeling of panic or dread. In the reality of God’s love, the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

dealing with the unexpected

Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:25-26

We have gradually for the most part been able to take in what is occurring worldwide with the coronavirus pandemic. It is unsettling for sure, and potentially life-changing. I am volunteering at my work place, Our Daily Bread Ministries which Michigan has allowed to remain open as an essential service. Most are staying at home, many being able to work from home. My work is factory, so we either work there, or not at all. The ministry is generously paying those who are staying home. Considering family, friends, and society at large and around the world, it is a sobering time indeed.

Strangely enough yesterday, after getting home from work, occasion took me behind the garage where I saw a new tree growing in our neighbor’s yard near the fence, between our two garages. I probably was seeing it for the first time, and it looks like a fast grower, already too big for comfort, its branches heading for our garage. And I felt gripped in fear. In the past we had to have a big tree cut down behind our garage, which if I would have taken care of when we first moved there, would have cost nothing. And so my relative peace and calm in spite of the trying circumstances of our time was replaced with an ongoing, gripping fear.

We read in the passage in Proverbs quoted above that we’re not to be fearful of sudden disaster. That seems like a mighty tall order, given all that can happen and sometimes does in this life. And I really don’t appreciate the disruption of the relative peace I had in the midst of the storm raging around us. I must admit that for me owning a home often seems much more like a home owning me, no doubt.

But we have to keep coming back to God’s word, to prayer, and simply waiting on God in his grace to answer us. God is for us as seen in the sending of his Son (Romans 8:31-32). I think it is important to see the immediate context of this passage:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:21-26

We can’t just pull a “precious promise” out of the air, or a hat, or even the Bible which is the point here, and expect God to answer. We must consider the context of the whole, really the entire Bible, but first of all the immediate context of Scripture.

All of that said, I personally am tired of falling into the gripping fear which all too often has characterized my life over the years, although it is less than it once was. If I’m not experiencing that, it’s almost like I’m trying to fend it off. Worry has all too often hounded me. It’s almost as if I’m worried about becoming worried, anxious about being overcome and stricken with anxiety. And now it has overtaken me again.

I love how the passage quoted just above prioritizes wisdom. That seems to be the key to avoiding undue stress, the stress that should not be added on to the normal stress of life. Of course like most everything else, that’s easier said then done.

The promise spelled out is encouraging in both the tranquility God can give, as well as God helping us avoid what is not helpful, and often only exacerbates the problem, or at least causes us to dig ourselves into a deeper hole of fear. Taking matters into our own hands is not the answer. And just as I’ve been told in the past, we shouldn’t act on our fears. That is at least too close to panic, which is never good.

Of course I do want to act responsibly and do what can be done. With the neighbor’s permission, I could cut down the relatively young tree just on the other side of their fence. But if I can’t get the answer I want, then I have to leave it in God’s hands. And try to be entrusting that to God right along, by faith. Which leads me to share one more part of the general context, which has spoken significantly to me in recent years:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

May God help me and all of us to learn more and more to rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

Jesus calming the storm

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41

There’s no doubt that there are many storms in our lives. Sometimes just the normal stuff that comes and goes, like an unexpected problem that brings some stress. Once in a while, something more serious, be it an illness, loss of job, something else.

Like the disciples, we have Jesus present with us, who can calm any storm. And if it’s not in God’s will to stop what is happening, then at least Jesus can stop the storm in our hearts for sure.

(From what I’ve read, the application might actually be that Jesus is challenging the disciples to speak into the storm themselves, which would have required a faith far beyond what they had. Or it may simply refer to their lack of trust in God in the midst of the storm. I suppose I prefer the latter interpretation. And certainly would not accept a “word of faith” kind of interpretation such as we find in some circles.)

fret not

do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37:8b

I know I’m pulling this out of context, but I think the point I’m going to make is not contradictory to the point the passage is making. It’s taking matters into our own hands due to excessive worry. And when we do that, I know by experience we can make matters worse.

The Bible has a radical answer for God’s people. Don’t worry; don’t fret. The clearest directive for us is something I’ve shared times before, and I’m sure I’ll share again, Lord willing.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is radical. We’re not to worry, not to be anxious about anything at all. Instead we’re to trust God. Bringing our concern thankfully to God. And we have the promise that God’s peace which transcends our understanding will guard both our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That reminds me of another passage.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s a matter of trust: “trust and obey.” We find out what we can, but above all, we put the matter into God’s hands. He’ll take care of it. God can change anything. Or God will work for good in any and everything, even that which in and of itself is not good.

We just need to quit fretting, and instead pray. Develop that new habit and pattern until it becomes a part of who we are when we’re faced with fear. In and through Jesus.

 

not acting on emotions

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

I think one of the greatest problems we have in not really following through on wisdom as we would like is our habit of acting on impulse. Somehow we proceed on how we feel, our emotions, rather than on good thinking based on understanding considered in the light of what is good for others and ourselves, in the fear and goodness of God.

It is almost a given that if we feel a certain way, then corresponding words or actions will follow. For example, someone cuts us off on the road, or sits at a light. At best we might utter a relatively mild word under our breath, at worst we remark that they’re dumb. Or I might just think they’re on their cell phones, and shake my head in disgust.

What Scripture calls us to is not some stoic resolve and refusal to acknowledge what is happening and how we feel. I’ve seen people act like everything is okay when it’s not, and keep doing that only to explode at a certain point later. It’s better to shake one’s head right along, while keeping oneself mostly in check, not flying off the handle. But better yet is the refusal not to act at all on our emotions which we would call negative. But rather, to keep working through things in a thoughtfully wise and understanding way. And many times along the way that will involve prayers to God and seeking help from others, as well as simply persevering in what we need to do.

Like the NET Bible footnote tells us, it is harder for us to appreciate the impact of this verse now, since the kind of warfare mentioned is largely a thing of the past. If we carried that forward to what we know of the military today, they’re trained not to act on emotion, but strictly on command. But in our imagination we can go back to the days when military feats we’re done in hand to hand combat.  I actually don’t think it’s so much comparing one action to the other, but rather simply saying that one mode of conduct is better than the other.

The Holy Spirit and the word helps us to avoid what is not helpful. To be patient, or slow to anger, to be self-controlled. It’s vitally important that we don’t act on negative emotions like anger or fear when we know our words or actions will not help those who hear or see us. Best never to act on such emotions at all. Part of living in wisdom, knowing what is good and right and helpful. In and through Jesus.

 

fear an opportunity for faith

In this world there are endless possibilities to be anxious about something. And there are indeed many things to be concerned about. I am the kind of person that when troubled can pray and get God’s peace, but can almost immediately think of something else that troubles me. And that really never stops when you consider the nature of things in this life. What if we lived more of an anxiety-less existence in the midst of the inevitable trouble that comes our way? Scripture tells us how, and perhaps no more clearly and to the point than here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I think quite often our breakthroughs come when we’re in the midst of the worst of what we experience. When we’re in that kind of struggle, we need to be in prayer. And we need to go on what God gives us, the thought as well as whatever peace might come our way, of course I’m talking about inward peace. Maybe even our own thought, or so it would seem. Recently I had what I would call a major breakthrough on an issue, deciding that I was no longer going to concern myself so that I actually break that old rule and simply trust in God, come what may. We can fashion many ideas or practices simply out of fear. That’s a sign it’s not good. And as a former pastor told us, we should never act from fear.

Except that fear can oddly enough become an impetus to move us to faith. There are few things worse than living in fear. For some people they have certain phobias, fear of this or that. Or some may just live in fear of just about everything. These people need special help. Psychiatric counseling might be good; how many of us have seen a psychiatrist or psychologist? I have, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed can be helpful. But what I’m getting at here is more the fear we normally encounter usually over one matter at a time. As a good Christian man who worked where I work in the past used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Yes, we want to be alert and do what we can. It’s not like we just become passive in our faith. But we ought to start with prayer in faith in the midst of the worry. Keep praying. And act from there or not act at all if we are unsure of what to do. Of course we use common sense in seeking counsel (Proverbs).

In the end we bring all our fears to God. Believing he can take care of everything. Notice that the passage above says nothing about the actual outcome. The promise is that God’s peace will settle in, in a way canceling out our own understanding, certainly surpassing it (Proverbs 3:5-6). And so our fears can oddly enough become an opportunity for faith. As we keep turning to God again and again in and through Jesus.

 

trusting in God no matter what

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:19-23

Daniel was faithful no matter what. But underlying that faithfulness was a rock solid faith in the faithfulness of God. Daniel trusted God.

Daniel’s trust was not hinged to good circumstances. It was trust in God through good times and bad times. It was honed and made solid from years of daily practice. The development and growth of faith takes considerable time.

The king, Darius, was led to make a decree which was set up by men who were jealous of Daniel, and wanted to get rid of him. But Daniel payed no attention to the edict to pray only to the king, and continued day after day to open his windows and face Jerusalem, praying to God. According to the edict, whoever prayed to anyone other than the king was to be thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel trusted in his God no matter what. I’m sure he wasn’t assured of the outcome, but he was assured that through life or death God could be trusted. In this case it was an outcome which for Daniel was good, but not for his enemies. A pretty ruthless day and age.

The passage talks about the king’s emotional state, but not Daniel’s. I’m sure Daniel had emotions throughout it. But above all, he kept trusting God, I’m sure by praying. And if he had scrolls, looking into God’s word, or hearing it at weekly gatherings where it was read. And he continued to do what he was called to do.

We might face fearful circumstances, or quite often just fearful thoughts which frequently are baseless.  The roaring lion, the devil prowls about looking for someone to devour, the context in Peter in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). But God shuts the mouth of the lion. In a certain way now the devil can’t touch us (1 John 5:18). The roar is meant to instill fear. We need to ignore that and continue on in faith. Doing what God has called us to do, and above all continuing to trust in him. God will always see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

“do not be afraid, little flock”

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:22-34

Our kitten Cloe is a live wire, constantly on the move in full play, and I might add, some mischief in her curiosity, as well as with her claws. The other day I was getting after her about something. As I remember it, she ran, and when I saw her next, maybe in another room she looked pensive and concerned, maybe a bit fearful in her eyes. Just a different expression. When I saw that, my heart was full of love for her, and I spoke gently to her. Then she returned to her normal wide eyed self, scampering around in play.

I can just imagine that’s the way our heavenly Father is when he sees us fearful for one reason or another. Jesus’s words here are moving. He calls his disciples, “little flock” and tells them not to be afraid. And that their Father has been pleased to give them the kingdom which he had just told them they were to seek. That they should sell their possessions and give to the poor, their lives turned in an entirely new direction.

And this is tied to trusting the heavenly Father for everything one needs in life, I mean the basics of life: food and shelter. That God will help us in every way needed.

The kind of radical life Jesus calls his disciples to demands complete trust. We have to be aware of that. We can never do this on our own. We wouldn’t know what to do in the first place, and we must trust God to help us through it all, to be a witness to and exemplar of the kingdom. In and through Jesus.

a story of the Lord’s power over the demonic

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39

This may seem an odd story, especially in our western rationalistic world today, but it’s really quite a beautiful one if one walks slowly and thoughtfully through it. Jesus deals with a profound brokenness of humanity when seized by the demonic realm. Ordinarily Satan works undercover, especially here in the west, where the idea of demons is largely dismissed, yes even true in some Christian circles. Of course in parts of the southern hemisphere the people know only too well the reality of such.

The story goes to show how those demonized can lose control and essentially their humanity. In the story Jesus casts the demon out, which turns out to be a host of demons, and the man who had been uncontrollable either by himself or others was now normal so that at last he could be himself.

The people who lived in the area were overcome with fear given the change and all that had happened. Really it was both a rational and irrational fear. Change and disruption: the large herd of pigs was gone. But good which would go on: the man who had been possessed by the demons would tell the story of how Jesus delivered him.

God never forces his way on us. When asked to, Jesus departed. But the Lord wants to help us, indeed deliver and save us. We should never act on fear. Instead of letting our faith be overcome by fear, we need to let our fear be overcome with faith. That can take time, but we need to settle in and wait because by faith it will come.

A great story. Telling us something of the salvation that has come in and through Jesus.