Calming Fear with Fear? Yes, really…

In ancient days, the sea was perceived as the ultimate untamed beast. The wild oceans and seas were turbulent, they were uncontrollable, and they were sometimes terrifying…. What am I saying? They are still these things!
Today, where I live, people are much quicker to think of these kinds of terrors in relation to a storm rather than the seas or oceans. Maybe it’s because I live pretty far away from any coastline, but the great untamed beast is a storm-front more than the sea in my stomping ground.
At any rate, there always seems to be something which embodies our fears, and storms do a good job of exposing our utter helplessness on the grand stage of life. However, I believe that the storm itself is not what causes our fear. Instead, the storm is that circumstance, that experience, which brings our fears of other things to a climactic head. Keep in mind, though, the “storm” may also be a metaphor for a host of circumstantial fears; you may feel free to insert your particular experience for the best application.
God once spoke to His people through the prophet Jeremiah, rebuking them for fearing the wrong thing. God said His people should have feared Him and not their circumstances – such as the roaring sea.
He said, “Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it” (Jeremiah 5:22).
God basically told the people that they should fear Him more than they fear the embodiment of their worst fears – the sea. God did not equivocate, but I am using the word “fear” in two different senses here. On the one hand, we fear or feel horror at the perception of ominous circumstances; on the other hand, we are to fear or have a reverent respect for God as the all-powerful sovereign.
With this in mind, allow me to outline three false assumptions which stimulate us to fear (horror) and the healthy fear (reverent respect) we ought to have in its place.
First, you may imagine that the storm – your fear-inducing circumstance – has no driver.
This is a common thought among modern western people. We have become so familiar with the scientific language of a materialistic worldview that we do not notice the utterly anti-biblical nature of such thinking. The wind and the waves, the sun and the moon, the rain and the drought all obey the command of God. While we may observe material causes for such things, and we may also see patterns that help us make sense of the world around us, God is the providential sovereign over it all. He upholds the universe by the word of His mouth (Heb. 1:3), and there is not so much as a single rogue molecule. It is God we should fear (reverently respect), for the storm is fully under His control.
Second, you may assume that the driver of your fear-inducing circumstance is a vengeful barbarian. 
This is less common among non-Christians (ironically), but Christians who take their own sinful rebellion seriously are often plagued by incredible fear (horror). Christians sometimes assume that the God, who controls the wind and the waves, has no patience for their remaining disobedience. The rest they once enjoyed in Christ becomes elusive, and their anxiety rises in anticipation of God’s judgment. However, God has revealed Himself as a good and gracious King and not a vengeful barbarian. He is patient with rebels and gentle with the contrite. It is His loving kindness that is meant to lead sinners to repentance (Rom. 2:4). We should fear God (reverent respect), but if we trust and love Christ, we should not live in horror at His judgment. There is no judgment coming to those in Christ Jesus.
Third, you may presume upon your own works as your refuge and safety, forgetting the work of Christ. 
This one is related to the one above, but I thought it worth mentioning at greater length and in more specific detail. Of course, the character of God – that He is good and kind not hateful and spiteful – is the place to begin. And yet, there is also a very real tendency among Christians to move from trusting Christ toward trusting themselves as their faith-journey continues on. While Christians are (by definition) those who trust Christ and not themselves, the ongoing life of Christward pursuit produces exasperating humiliation for those who really give it a try. The thorough knowledge of remaining sinful desires, the continuation of divided affections, and the frequent failure to live as faithfully as you truly want to live can send a Christian right into fear (horror).
But, take heart Christian! If you feel such a weight concerning your sin, then this is the grace of God! God certainly does not want you to remain fearful (in horror), but He does want you to come to the end of yourself. He wants you to fear Him (reverent respect), and know that His promise to utterly cleanse you and renew you is sure. God want you to throw away your ridiculous notions of self-sufficiency and press into Him until you fearfully trust nothing but Him!
The Bible tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). I believe this is true, and I believe that the fear of God is the beginning of true freedom from all fear.
May God make us to fear Him, and may we grow increasingly free from the fear of all else.

Hope in times of suffering, pain and loss

While a young mother was changing her two-year-old daughter’s clothes, she heard Bella’s tiny voice.  Pointing to herself, Bella asked, “I cansoo?”  Leslie, Bella’s mother, was used to interpreting her daughter’s attempts at communication, but this word was new.  “Say it again,” Leslie said.  She needed to hear it again in order to make a good translation.  “I cansoo?”  Bella tried the question once more, but still the word was not clear.  Then Bella pointed to the scar on her tiny body that was left when her chemotherapy port had been removed, and said “Port.  Out.  I cansoo?”

Leslie was overcome with the stark reality of the whole situation, but she was able to maintain her composure for the moment.  Leslie said to her little girl, “Bella, are you saying cancer?”  Bella’s eyes widened and she responded, “YeahI cansoo?”  With a lump in her throat, Leslie said, “Yes baby, you have cancer.”

Bella is still enduring the effects of this terrible disease, but every human to one degree or another experiences suffering, sickness, emotional distress, and general discomfort.  In fact, the grim reality of mortal life is that it eventually ends in death.  However, people have ways of coping with this reality, and life seems to go on – at least for some.  What are we to do with our sense of helpless weakness?  Should we deny the inevitable by thinking that sickness and death are oddities?  Should we eat, drink and be merryfor tomorrow we die?  Is there any place that we may turn for truth, stability and strength?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there is stability and strength to be found in truth.  Yet, the basis for hope may not be what one might expect.  The reason that humans may have hope, especially in times of great distress, is that there is one who has died before us.  But, how can death provide hope for those plagued by death? It is not only the death of another that provides hope, but it is the subsequent display of divine authority and power.

Jesus Christ, the eternal God, was no ordinary man (John 1:14).  His life was lived in perfect obedience to God’s law (Hebrews 4:15), yet He died as one condemned – cursed by God (Romans 3:25).  While Jesus was perfectly good and righteous, He endured the full wrath of God as a sinner of the worst kind (Isaiah 53:4-6). At His moment of death, Jesus spoke out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  This was to claim that the punishment for sin was thorough, and God’s wrath against all sinners who trust in Christ was exhausted.

Following this atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ conquered death – not for just a little while, but never to die again!  This is where hope may be found in times of painful distress.  This mortal life, under the curse of sin and power of death, is not all there is!  Read the words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (v3-4).

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (v20-22).

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (v54-58).

In the life, death and resurrection of Christ we who trust in Him are assured and comforted. In Christ we are able to see our sin for the ugly offense that it is and God’s gracious grace on beautiful display.  In Christ we are able to see death, the final and ultimate foe of all mankind, subdued and overcome by the power of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.

Therefore, the hope… the stability… the strength… the inclination to endure is not that we will be spared from pain, sickness, disease and death…  No, but even in these things we are victorious because of Christ (Romans 8:37-39)!  Oh, Christian, look not only to your temporal merriment, but fix your eyes upon the hope of glory!  Behold the King of splendor!  Lift up your gaze to the eternal, true and living God, who is the Savior of your soul – the steadfast promise keeper.

This life may be marred by difficulty, pain and sin, but our glorious future is more wonderful, more beautiful, more stimulating than anything we have ever known.

Contentment in Christ

Contentment is Serenity, Gladness, Satisfaction, Pleasure, Happiness; It is defined as the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.

The essence or heart of all the commands of God is summed up by Jesus in the single greatest command to love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37).  In other words, look to God alone for the true satisfaction, gladness, serenity and contentment of your heart, your soul and your mind.

All sinful expression may be boiled down to some pursuit of contentment – either of the heart, the soul or the mind – in some thing or place other than the God of the universe.  Look to the times when you and I sin… this is where we may find our desire to find our contentment in people, stuff, reputation or life experience – rather than in God.

The painful reality is that you and I are adulterous, thieving, lying and covetous people.

For now (and always), let us both rejoice in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He is not adulterous, thieving, lying or covetous.  He is faithful, diligent, honest, and perfectly contented.

This is great news, not simply because of His example, but because He is our representative – the substitute for all those who trust in Him!  God the Father looked to Christ the Son and judged Him, the righteous and obedient servant, evil so that those of us who actually are evil would be given Jesus’ perfect righteousness.

What a beautiful scandal of grace!  Oh, that my heart and yours would behold this wonderful Gospel more clearly today…

My hope and yours is not that we might become faithful enough, diligent enough, or honest enough that we are acceptable before God.  Certainly we strive for a life of holiness, but… Our hope is that God has declared us perfectly faithful, diligent and honest – not because we practically are such, but because Christ has covered our rebellion and given us His righteous obedience!

Today, let us be content to behold (drink in with your mind’s eye) the King of Glory as we remember that He is our Redeemer (the one who bought us back from bondage at great personal cost) and not our Judge (the one who rightly condemns us for being the sinful rebels we are)!