Tag Archives: fear

Nuggets of Hope 25 – Jesus in your boat

The boat pictured here is a replica of an ancient fishing vessel whose remains were discovered by a couple of amateur archaeologists in the Galilee region in 1986.  It’s thought to be much like the type of boat that Jesus and his disciples would have used.  It’s a sizable craft, capable of being either sailed or rowed.

Among Jesus’ disciples were several seasoned fisherman, familiar with the Galilee waters. Still, on more than one occasion the gospel narratives relate that they ran into trouble with high winds and waves. One evening, after a busy day spent helping Jesus meet the needs of a crowd of over 5000 people, they set off to cross the lake in a boat much like this one, while Jesus went off for some solitary prayer in the hills surrounding the lake.

This wasn’t just a pleasure jaunt for the guys in the boat. The boss had told them to meet him on the other side of the lake, and they were doing their best to follow his instructions. But they were having a rough go. The wind was against them and they weren’t making much headway.

Quite possibly they were having conversations something like this.

Can this trip really be God’s will? Maybe we didn’t hear him right. Jesus can’t want us to be having all this trouble, can he? I thought he cared about us. Maybe we shouldn’t even be doing this. I think this whole adventure was a bad idea. I’m not sure how much longer I can go on.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the next thing they knew, they had another problem – a really big one. The high winds and waves were a problem, but at least they were a familiar problem. They knew what to do about winds and waves. But then things got really scary.  They thought they saw a ghost.

We’ve all had moments like those. We’re already beyond exhausted – at the end of our rope – but at least we have a plan and we know what we are dealing with. Then things just go to a whole other level and we have no idea what to do next.

What a relief to hear Jesus’ voice. “It is I. Do not be afraid.” The gospel of John records that when they heard his voice, they realized who it was, and let him into the boat; and immediately (as it seemed to them) they reached the other side.

The journey through life can feel like a tough assignment sometimes. As if our pre-COVID life weren’t challenging enough, the pandemic confronts us with questions to which nobody really knows the answers. Are we going to make it to the other side? What will “the other side” even look like? Where are we headed? Will life ever be normal again?

Here’s a different question. Do you have Jesus in your boat?

If you do, all the other questions might still be there, but suddenly everything looks different. Jesus is master of the situation. He knows the way through. Breathe deeply. You are going to be OK. You don’t have to be afraid.

The Apostle John, looking back on this event many years later, summarizes their feelings this way: Then they were glad to take him into the boat. 

What about you? Is Jesus in your boat?

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 22 – How to Stay Safe

Stay safe.

It’s become one of the dominant messages in the COVID-19 era.

But how, exactly, do we stay safe? How do we protect ourselves?

Before we can really answer that question, we need to ask another question. From what enemy are we trying to protect ourselves?

If you’re trying to protect yourself from getting COVID-19, there are recommended precautions. But what if you have a sneaking suspicion that COVID-19 isn’t your biggest enemy?

Yes, COVID-19 is an enemy. But it can be a useful enemy. Like any crisis, any situation that we can’t control, the pandemic raises important questions for us. Where is my real hope? What am I living for? What do I really want? What is my life really about?

Many people are experiencing heightened anxiety during these times. But their anxiety is not only because of COVID-19.  That’s just the current threat. The reality is that we are all vulnerable to many possible harms. Death is a prospect that none of us can escape in this age.

Disciples of Jesus have a Master who has conquered death on our behalf, and set us free from the power of darkness. If we really believe that, we should be the happiest of people. But we also have an enemy who hates us and desires to rule our thoughts. He does this by planting thoughts which we can choose to accept or reject. But to recognize them and reject them, you need a good spiritual immune system. The contagion that I really want to avoid is that sneaky tendency to focus on myself, and the immune system I need is the good, old-fashioned blood of Jesus that washes me clean from sin, His Word that is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, and His powerful Spirit who guides me in the ways of love and self-control.

Recently I studied the First Letter of John with a small group of friends. John is identified as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Of course Jesus loved all his disciples but he apparently had an especially close relationship with John. By the time he wrote this letter, John was an old man who had seen most of the companions of his youth put to death for their faith in Jesus.

For John, the issues were clear. He ended his message to his flock with these sobering but hope-filled and powerful words.

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.

1 John 5:18-21

The safest place to be is close to Jesus. That’s where I want to stay. That’s where I’m placing my hope.

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 13 – All Things

All things. Yes, I did mean all things. All things work together for good. 

All things? Everything?

Yes, all things. That’s what it says. Romans 8:28. You know the verse.

Even COVID-19? Lord, surely you couldn’t mean that.

Yes, yes I do. I do mean exactly that. For those who love Me, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to My purpose.

But God … how can you mean that? How can this pandemic be good?

I didn’t say it was good. I said it can work for your good. But since you’re asking Me questions, I have a question for you. It’s a really important question. The most important question anyone will ever ask you. Do you love Me?

Well …. it’s a bit complicated right now. I mean, you aren’t exactly managing things the way I would like.

Well, do you?

I think so. Sometimes. Sort of. A little bit. But I don’t like some of the things you do – or allow.

Then maybe you should spend some time with Me, and let me show you what I want to do in you through this test.

Maybe. I guess that would be a good idea. But God, can’t you just make things like normal again, and make this coronavirus go away? I don’t like tests. I don’t like upheavals. I don’t like it when I can’t control things, or when my life doesn’t work the way I think it should. And I don’t like to see people suffering.

I know.

Yes. Yes, I suppose you do know. You know my thoughts, don’t you.

Yes, I know your thoughts. But you don’t seem to know My thoughts very well. Did you know there’s another part to that verse?

Is there? Doesn’t it just say all things work together for good for those who love You?

That’s part of it. But remember that bit about being called according to My purpose?

Oh yeah. That part. So what’s that all about, anyway?

You tell me. What do you think is My purpose for you?

I dunno. A nice, easy comfortable life here on earth – after all, I’m a Christian, right? I go to church, I believe in you, I hang out with my nice Christian friends, I do good Christian stuff, and you’re supposed to protect me and my family and make sure we don’t have any trouble. After all, we’re good people. And then I get to go to heaven. But it doesn’t quite seem to be working out the way I thought. This COVID-19 thing really has me rattled.

Yes, I noticed. But did you know that you left out a couple of bits? My purpose for you is a bit bigger than you thought. 

It is? I was afraid of that.

Yep. Did you know there’s a part in there about becoming like Jesus

Really? You expect that? Nobody can be as good as Jesus. He’s special. He’s different.

Well, I didn’t say you had to do that part by yourself. You can’t make yourself like Jesus. You can’t change yourself. Especially not when you keep trying to play it safe and stay out of trouble. That’s why I’m helping you out by letting you go through some problems. 

That’s supposed to help me?

Well, how else am I going to teach you to depend on Me? You spend most of your time trying to figure everything out by yourself. So I allowed the devil to stir up a problem that was too big for anyone to handle. 

I have to admit, I did wonder if maybe the devil had his hand in this. But I don’t understand why you would let him do that. I still don’t see how this pandemic can lead to anything good.

You see how your leaders are trying really hard to cope, keep everyone from getting sick. And medical researchers are working really hard to find solutions, things they can use to manage this problem. They want to find a vaccine. They don’t want to have another problem like this one again. I understand that. I understand that you’re all frightened, and you just want it to end. Believe me, I feel it. I’m hearing way more prayers than usual, and most of them are full of fear. But at least they’re praying. That’s a start. But most people haven’t got a clue what this is really about. 

What is it about then?

My enemy – the devil – wants to destroy you all. He always does. He hates you, and he hates Me. But I’m not going to allow that. I am letting him test you, though. To see how you’ll do. To see how many of my people – those who say they’re my people, anyway – will actually turn to Me. Did you know that’s how you become more like Jesus?

By turning to you and paying attention to you? Really? It’s that simple?

Yes, really. That’s how it works. And not just when things are hard. All the time. You have no idea how much I love you and want to see you grow up into the amazing, glorious person I intend you to become. I want you to live with Me in My perfect Kingdom that is coming, where there is no more suffering or death or pain or anything evil. But none of that can happen unless you go through some troubles. Without troubles, you won’t change, because you’d rather stay in control, you’d rather keep things safe and comfortable. The reason I allow troubles in your life is so that you’ll turn to Me and let Me have My way in your life. 

Ouch. But yes, you’re right. I see that, a little bit anyway. I do want to learn to turn to You and trust You more. I’m tired of being afraid. So what should I do? How can I fix this?

You can’t fix it. That’s the whole point. But I can. I can work in you so that you’re not so anxious, so worried, so stressed. I can teach you to trust Me. I can make you more like Jesus. I can cause you to grow in love, so that you can actually help people in this crisis and not just worry about yourself. I can prepare you for My glorious Kingdom that is coming. I can do all that. But you have to pay attention to Me. 

OK God. Let’s give it a go. I think that would be a good thing. My way’s not working so well.

I noticed that. Glad you’re on side. Walk with me through this. 

Thank you, Lord. Please help me. Teach me Your ways.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. (Romans 8:28-30 NLT)

 

 

 

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Why I’m not afraid of swine flu

Swine flu has been in the news lately.  It comes up in lots of conversations.  In spite of all the media attention, most people I talk to say they aren’t worried about swine flu.

Here are the three main reasons why people say they aren’t worried.

  • most of the deaths have taken place in Mexico, not in countries like Canada where we have good access to medical care
  • the swine flu doesn’t really seem any worse than most other kinds of flu
  • if we take proper precautions we’ll be OK

It’s true enough that those who have a robust immune system can probably resist swine flu.  Taking proper sanitary precautions can certainly help.  And in a country like Canada where we have good medical care, even if we do get swine flu we will probably survive.   But still, unexpected things happen.  A few years ago my accountant died of the flu.  He was in his early 40s and apparently in good health.

My point is very simple.  Although most people don’t like to think about it, the truth is that none of us can avoid death forever.  At some point I will die and so will you, whether the cause is swine flu or something else.

I’m not against taking precautions.  I believe in taking care of my health, but I’m not going to worry about the latest scare.  And the reason I’m not going to worry has nothing to do with Canada’s health system or my immune system.  When it comes right down to it, my trust is somewhere else.  I’ve placed control of my life in God’s hands.  My life belongs to Jesus Christ who died for me.  Whether I live or die I belong to the Lord, and I am confident that I can trust him.

Some may say “How foolish.  Who would trust a God that you’ve never seen?”.  My reply to you is simple.  In the end, none of the other things in which you’ve placed your trust will be able to save you.  In the end, health care won’t save you, your good management skills won’t save you, living in Canada won’t save you.  In the end, you will face Jesus anyway.  At that point, you’ll wish you had placed your trust in Him while you had the choice.

I want to live my life on earth to the full while I have the chance.  I want the best for my wife, my children and grandchildren.  But in the end, what’s best is not mine to determine.   In the end, my Creator and Redeemer holds the keys of life and death and I would rather place my trust in him than in myself.  I have his word that if I place my hope in him, I have a share in his eternal kingdom where sickness, death and suffering have no power.  And that’s why I’m not afraid of the swine flu.

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Hope in tough times

We are in tough times.  As economic giants like General Motors appear close to collapse, fear continues to spread, and many wonder if there is any hope.

None of this should be a surprise to those who understand God’s ways.   The Bible shows us that the same thing has happened over and over again throughout history.   When times are good, we tend to get cocky and we think we can do anything.  But God has a way of humbling the proud and self-sufficient, and raising up those who humbly depend on Him.

When the angel Gabriel came to the village of Nazareth to tell a young teen-aged girl named Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she responded with amazing faith and offered her body to be the Lord’s vessel.   Later, reviewing these wondrous events with her cousin Elizabeth, she burst into song and uttered these memorable words about God’s ways :

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.

Jesus’ birth was announced both to the poor – the shepherds in the fields – and to the wealthy and powerful – the Wise Men from the East.  The thing they had in common was humiliity and faith.  They were willing to place their hope, not in themselves but in God’s promise.

In tough times people often look for a strong leader to rescue them.  But ultimately, no human leader can save us – not Michael Ignatieff, not Stephen Harper, not Barack Obama.  The best leaders are those who humbly recognize their own fallibility and their dependency on God.   Ultimately that’s where our hope lies.

The birth of Jesus is only good news for those who know they need hope from beyond themselves.  As long as we persist in the delusion that we have it made,  Jesus has nothing to offer us.  But if we humble themselves and put our trust in the Saviour’s unfailing love, no matter how tough the times, there is good news of great joy.  Merry Christmas !

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Why are you afraid?

A recent poll shows that in the wake of this week’s crisis in the House of Commons, 72% of Canadians are very concerned about the future of our country.   The ongoing slide in financial markets, coupled with this week’s news about job losses, has people worried about the economy as well.

The problems are real enough.  People worry because they feel helpless to change these situations that affect their lives.  And the truth is that indeed, we don’t have all that much control over either our government or the economy – so from one perspective it makes sense to worry, right ?

Wrong.  The reality is that worrying solves nothing – it only paralyzes us into inaction.

One day Jesus’ disciples were out on Lake Galilee in a fishing boat and a storm came up.  They were terrified of drowning, and woke Jesus up, begging Him to save them.  Why was he sleeping?  Didn’t he care?   Jesus immediately commanded the storm to cease, and peace returned to the frightened men in the little boat.  But he had no words of apology for sleeping during the storm.  Instead, he challenged them with these words: “Why were you afraid, O you of little faith?

While many things are beyond our control, each of us has the freedom to make some choices that do affect our lives and the world around us.  Each of us has a measure of authority in a certain sphere that God assigns to us.  At a minimum, we all have authority over our own spirit, our own thought life, our own emotions, our own responses to the people in our lives and the things that happen around us, our use of time and money.  When we allow ourselves to be ruled by worry and anxiety, we surrender our authority to the Devil and become unable to act in faith, unable to take any positive action, unable to make wise choices.  All we can see is disaster on the horizon; so we either do nothing, or make poor choices that only make things worse.

So what’s the solution?  How do you get rid of worry?  The Bible says we get rid of worry by turning our worries over to God.  We need to recognize that worry is actually one of the Enemy’s weapons which he uses against us.  The Apostle Paul tells us to use faith as a shield against these negative thoughts that are aimed at us to bring us down.

I know what I’m talking about; I am someone who used to carry a heavy load of worry and anxiety.  I no longer do.  The change wasn’t instantaneous; it came over many years, as I learned to consciously replace thoughts of fear with thoughts of faith.  One of the most powerful weapons in this fight is the spoken Word of God.  I often speak God’s promises over my own life to encourage myself.  I do it because it works!

Aren’t the problems real ?  Sure they are – and speaking God’s promises doesn’t make them go away.  But it does put them in perspective.  When worries rise up to attack the fortress of my thought life, I put them down with God’s words of truth, and peace returns to my heart and mind.  I am then free to see the landscape around me as it really is, and receive God’s guidance as to the best course of action.  And He does give practical wisdom – if my mind is free to receive it.  Some things I can control; some I can’t.  I need to recognize which situations I can influence, focus on those, and leave the rest in God’s hands – in peace, without fear.  Long ago King David wrote that God guides the steps of those who trust in Him.  I’ve found that to be a true and reliable promise.  Will there be problems?  Sure, but I don’t have to face them alone.  God is with me.  He’ll be with you too, if you choose to trust Him.

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