What If …

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By Martin Schlomer

This morning, the wind was knocked out of me! Not literally, but it felt like it. I found an unread email sent to me a few weeks ago with a comment regarding my sermon on worry from Matthew 6:19-34. It read:

When my heart was hardened against God, it was believers at peace despite real troubles that began to crack the shell of my heart and make me say, “This is real, God is real.” And when my mother’s heart was hardened, it was believers proclaiming Christ but consumed with worry that made her say, “Their God is not real, they have no confidence in Him.” We are always witnessing, for better or worse.

The outcomes for others of how we handle worry can be hopeful or sobering!

For whatever reason, this fall, I’ve had several short seasons during which worry has crept into my heart. They have revealed chinks in my faith, places where I have felt alone, exposed, unprotected, and vulnerable to failure. Why would I feel this way? Looking at the circumstances of my life, things are good, solid, seemingly secure.

In these seasons, worry didn’t just walk in full force. Worry crept in one little “what if” thought at a time. These “what if” thoughts are less threatening and easier to entertain when they are welcomed one at a time. They present themselves in a much less threatening manner. However, when one is entertained for any length of time, the word gets out! Soon, I’m entertaining an entire squad of “what if” thoughts, and they can overtake my mind and my heart. It’s as if I have no confidence in my Father. It’s as if He isn’t real. The sad thing is, these thoughts take over without needing to fire a single shot. Game over! I’m a prisoner in the penitentiary of worry and fear. Thoughts of shame are like prison guards shouting at me, “I’m not enough!” “I’m a failure!” “I’ll never succeed!” “Don’t let anyone know!” Do these sound familiar? Are there any you might add?

“What if” thoughts are dangerous! They’re like ticks. When there is only one or two, they’re a nuisance — bothersome, but simple to deal with. But when there are a lot of them, they will suck a lot of blood and transmit a lot of fear. They can take us down some very dark rabbit holes.

How do we deal with “what if” thoughts? For myself, I must deal with them one at a time as they enter my mind. I lean into the reality that I have a Father who cares deeply for my well-being. He reminds me that I am not an orphan responsible to conquer life on my own. But I don’t lean into my Father alone. I invite others to share this journey with me. People walking with Jesus give me courage! Exposing and praying through worry with others — and the shame that often accompanies it — is freeing. While worry and fear will always be a part of the rhythm of our lives through various seasons of our lives, we must battle together.

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What’s Wrong with Now? Living in the Present

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By Jim DeAngelo

When I think about a future event and go beyond planning, I tend to worry about what might happen. When I think about the past, I tend to focus on how I messed up and could have done it better. This leads me to feelings of condemnation or shame.

What does God say about these conditions? In Matthew 6:34 Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” With anxiety comes fear, which is the opposite of faith. Fear drives us towards despair as we wonder what might happen that will harm us. Fear is the belief we will be harmed. Faith, on the other hand, is belief in God’s promises and His deliverance and blessing in our life. Faith brings us closer to God. Keeping our minds focused on today and letting God have tomorrow is necessary to staying away from the worry about tomorrow. Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:7 that I have been given a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. When I find myself worrying, I know there is something I have not given over to Christ, and I exercise self-discipline.

On dwelling in the past, the enemy of our souls wants us to feel condemnation. Condemnation is a feeling of unworthiness, failure, defeat, disapproval, censure, or criticism. This is the opposite of what Christ says about us. Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” When confronted with our feelings of failure and what God says about us, we decide what we want to believe. For a complete list of who we are in Christ, follow this link.

I have found that when I fear or feel like a failure, I have lost sight of who I am in Christ. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 2:12, which says that I have received the Spirit of God into my life that I might know the things freely given to me by God. When I am thinking and living in the present, thinking about now, not preoccupied about the future, at peace and not anxious, I am at peace and truly enjoy what I am experiencing now.

So, once I hit the send button on my computer, to get this published, I won’t think about what I could have or should have written — I will simply be glad I am done!

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Is Jesus Asleep in Your Boat?

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By Larry Short

Recently I led a Bible study in Mark 4:35-41. To set the scene, Jesus has spent a very long day teaching “by the lake.” The lake referred to is the Sea of Galilee, also known as “Lake Gennesaret” or the “Sea of Tiberias.”

The Sea of Galilee is currently 13 miles long and about 8 miles wide. At nearly 700 feet below sea level, it is the second-lowest lake on the planet, the Dead Sea (further south) alone being lower.

Today the Sea of Galilee is about 3 feet higher than it was in Jesus’ day. Which means it is also slightly wider and longer. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that is that the sea is subject to sudden, violent storms, due to its position ringed by mountains (updraft and air flow patterns can cause furious storms, particularly at night … in 1992 Tiberias, a town on the western shore, was flooded by 10-foot waves. Significant damage was sustained).

In Christ’s day, fish in the Sea of Galilee were relatively plentiful. Josephus noted that shortly after the time of Christ some 230 fishing boats regularly plied the lake. Only recently has it been nearly fished out.

At an average depth of over 70 feet, the lake contains a lot of water, and it is this weight that keeps a natural tendency toward salinity (due to extensive water evaporation) at bay. Gennesaret provides most of Israel’s water supply, so the government zealously controls its depth to keep salinization at bay.

In addition to teaching some popular parables (related to farming … focusing on the role of the Word of God, truth, and faith) Jesus spent his time on that day healing and casting out demons. It was a busy day, and by evening everyone was tired. Jesus dismissed the crowds and instructed his disciples to prepare boats to “pass over the lake to the other side.”

Fishing boats of the day probably held about a dozen passengers, and Mark says there were several other boats in the party. Jesus probably climbed into the boat with the apostles, and other boats were filled with various disciples. Mark says He promptly fell fast asleep on a cushion in the boat’s stern.

As they were crossing, a sudden and furious squall arose. Waves were cascading over the sides of the boats, and the disciples, many of whom were veteran sailors, felt they were in danger of being swamped. Finally, apparently as a last resort after all their best efforts failed, they awoke Jesus.

“Don’t you even care that we are perishing?” they shouted in frustration.

Christ’s response was to stand up, face the sea, and call out to the winds and waves to “be still!” (or quite literally, to “muzzle yourselves!” … which was the same language He used when calling demons to silence).

Scripture says the storm immediately ceased and the seas became as still as glass.

He then turned to His disciples: “Why are you still afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Over and over again, Scripture exhorts us to trade fear for faith. Fear seems natural to us in a situation like the one confronting the disciples, where their very lives felt threatened. One wouldn’t have blamed them for retorting, “You obviously know nothing about sailing, and how dangerous a situation we were in.” Except that, He had just demonstrated unequivocally that He was Lord and Master over the wind and the waves! So, maybe not.

A couple of observations

First, the disciples were doing exactly what Jesus had asked them to do when the storm arose: they were attempting to cross over the lake. Some “prosperity preachers” teach that if we would only do what Jesus says, all will go well and we will face no storms. Not true for these disciples.

Second, Jesus was in the boat. He was not out walking on the water (this time). And He was not afraid. He had promised them they would cross over. He also shared: “I don’t say anything but what I have heard from the Father.” So the God of the Universe had promised they would reach the other side. Despite the storm, there was in no reality any danger that they would end up in the drink.

So, what would have happened if the disciples had simply given up? Not bailed? If they hadn’t woken Jesus up? We don’t know exactly how it would have happened … but we do know they would have crossed over to the other side. Jesus said so.

And, if the disciples were afraid, why did they wait as long as they did to awaken Jesus? Obviously there was some pride involved. He was a carpenter, they were fishermen/sailors. They ought to have been able to handle a storm. Only when they came to the end of their wits were they finally willing to call out for help. (Sound familiar? I’ve been there.) The only problem was, by that time they were wracked with fear and far away from faith.

How can you possibly sleep at a time like this?

But I think the most interesting thing about the whole episode continues to be that Jesus slept. Surely He was very tired. But, how could you possibly sleep when the wind was howling and waves were crashing over the sides of your storm-tossed boat?

I don’t know about you, but there are certain places I absolutely cannot sleep, no matter how tired I am. One is in a plane being buffeted by storm turbulence. In 1978 I was in a small plane in a storm in Alaska, and the turbulence was so bad I ended up with seatbelt bruises on both hips. Sleep? Fuhgedaboudit. It was all I could do just to keep breakfast down.

Even though we spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping, most of us have never heard a sermon on sleep. But sleep figures prominently in the Bible. God obviously made us fallible, weak, requiring this resort each day to a very vulnerable state of unconsciousness in order to continue healthy functioning. Writing in the Desiring God blog, Jonathan Parnell says that sleep is “the midwife of humility,” and by that he means it is impossible to think it all depends on us and our brilliant activity, and forgo sleep so that we can do it all. If we try, we fail miserably. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Each of us desperately needs sleep.

And when we do sleep, we become vulnerable, don’t we? My wife and I recently had something die in the walls of our house, probably a squirrel or a rat, which caused an infestation of flies. We killed as many as we could possibly kill each night before going to sleep, because we thought, Lord knows we don’t want any nasty flies crawling on our lips while we slept! We had no fear of such a thing happening to us while we were awake. But when you sleep you give up certain pretenses of self-protection.

We ended up praying, “God, please keep the flies off our lips!” And we slept.

David viewed sleep as an opportunity to trust God. In Psalm 3:5-6 he wrote, “I lay down and slept and woke again, for the Lᴏʀᴅ sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Then again, in Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lᴏʀᴅ, make me dwell in safety.”

David knew that sleep was an act of faith in the Lord’s protection. In Psalm 2:12 he said: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” He committed himself fully into the hands of Him who sleeps not. Jesus, the Son spoken of in Psalm 2, knew this too, which is why He could sleep in the storm-tossed boat.

Parnell ends his message with this beautiful exhortation:

When we sleep we are saying — in that same spirit of faith — that God will protect his Anointed and all those anointed in him (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are saying that no matter how many thousand enemies surround our soul, because of the Father’s commitment to his Son, we will not be destroyed. We will not be condemned. Nothing will ever be able to snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). Nothing will ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:38–39). When we go to bed, we are saying that.

Christian, life is short. You should get some sleep.

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Fear (of) the LORD!

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By Jeff Foerster

The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

Re-la-a-ax. This is where I whisper soothing things into your ear and tell you that you needn’t actually “fear” our God. I’ll tell you to replace “fear” with “awe, reverence, and respect.” That way you can let out that tightly held breath and feel a calm drift over you … isn’t that right?

But can you divorce “fear” from “reverence”? Can you remove mystery from awe? Would you minimize the character of God if it made you more comfortable? Do you believe that He is different now than He described Himself in the book of Exodus? It was with thunder and lightning and great smoke upon the mountain, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:20).

Did you hear that? Do not be afraid … so that the fear of Him may remain with you.

No that’s not contradiction, but rather clarity begging to be birthed. This first “afraid” encompasses doubt and visions of grave harm; a fear resulting from an anxiety of impending doom. It lingers not on God and who He is, but focuses on self and what is lacking therein. The “fear” in the second half places eyes and heart on the God who made and sustains all things. Wonder, and awe, and yes, no small amount of trepidation in the presence of the Almighty.

Look also to Hebrews chapter 12 and you’ll find this: “… let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Here we have reverence and awe, and this because of a rightly placed fear of God’s consuming fire. For the unbeliever this fire is eternal torment. For the child of God it is a refining fire, burning away all that is not reflecting Jesus.

Yes, the LORD God Almighty has made Himself known by the revelation of His incarnation through Jesus Christ. But don’t think you’ve got a handle on Him that He might fit within the confines of parameters you have developed through study or careful thought. No, He is much more than you can ever imagine.

Scripture is the beginning point to knowing God. Surely it is sufficient for all that we need to know about salvation and serves as a wonderful basis on how to live before God, our fellow brethren, and a witnessing world, but it cannot contain the enormity of our God! The Scriptures are a sliver of light to bring truth to our darkened world and minds, but God Himself is the source of that light, burning like a million suns, a million times over.

Who is He that you worship, O Christian? Come to Him with shortened breath and quickened heart. Approach Him knowing that there is not a word you can speak, even think, into eternity future that He has not already known in eternity past.

What will you impress Him with, O man? Will it be your great strength? Do you have enviable skill, which was gifted to you? Will you put on display your intellect? What will you bring before our God who made the galaxies His nook or who stares past the depths of subatomic particles?

First things first: Fear the LORD! Spend time being enamored with God. Find others who speak and sing His praises. Linger in His word. Meditate on His commands. Be still and know that He is God!

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Back to School

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By Stan Peterson

Psalm 46

Fall is upon us. Trees, flowers, and shrubs are all changing. The smells of autumn are wafting in the air, bringing back a flood of memories both good and bad of heading back to school. New friends, old friends, new shoes, adventures to be had, football to be watched, and homework to be done. All this and more can be overwhelming for parents and for students. It can feel as though the earth is moving, the mountains are being tossed into the sea, and the waters are foaming and lapping at our feet, ready to swallow us alive.

As a parent, I can easily be overwhelmed by all the worry and anxiety of sending our children off to school. I can also remember quite vividly the anxieties and fear I had as a child going back to school. I peer out into the world and know that there is much good and beauty to be reveled in, but there is also much evil and brokenness.

When I am overwhelmed by the latter, I remember one of God’s most precious promises, found in Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.”

I am reminded of this promise as I send my little ones off to school. I remind them of this same truth, that they can call upon the name of our Lord, that He is present and will help them in their time of trouble, that He hears each one of them, and that He is ready to come to our aid as our Helper and Comforter only can. Therefore we will not fear.

“There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the most high. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be MOVED.

Little children, let us not be moved, for His presence is enough. The Lord of hosts is with us!

 

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The Winds of Doubt

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By Stan Peterson

The sky was dark. Pitch black clouds loomed over the ocean and at any moment would let loose the rage of a squall. Winds had broken the main mast, sails were torn from their riggings and shredded from the gale force. Waves rolled in over the sides, crushing everything under their immense weight and showing no mercy where they landed. The ship plummeted hundreds of feet from tip of wave to bottom, and then back to tip, causing anything that was not lashed down to be hurled overboard. The waves were the size of small mountains. All caused by the wind.

Just like the ship in this description, we can become overwhelmed by life and circumstances. We can lose sight of the horizon and lose our bearings altogether.The Bible speaks of us being like a wave tossed about by the wind when we doubt.

We are reminded that the Israelites went into the wilderness not because they were lost, but because they doubted (Hebrews 3.19). Are you in the wilderness? Are you tired? Are you weary? Do you feel as though you cannot take one step further? Have you stopped asking God because the pain is too much?

When we doubt God’s character and His Word, we have allowed our flesh to rule our minds. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8.7). These are dangerous waters to sail in. I know, I’ve been there recently and have seen the results start to show up in my life and in my children’s lives. These thoughts are destructive for us and those all around us.

Remember what God has told us in His Word. We as God’s children are admonished to be diligent in taking every thought captive to the lordship of Christ Jesus. We are reminded that we have put off the old and put on the new man who is renewed in the knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. If indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Take courage beloved, for you are not alone! God is with you, He is in you, and your doubt has not caught Him by surprise. Humble yourself before Him and be set free today! Right now! Do not put off until tomorrow that which you can do today.

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