Friday, January 22, 2021

To the Father or Fear

“Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” -Phil. 4:7 (The Message)

Fear is…weird. There is no sin in the fear, but what we do after it hits us makes all the difference. We all have emotional “buttons” in our soul that get pressed by a variety of circumstances. And the circumstances over the past eleven months have pressed away! What we do after the “pressing” makes all the difference.

First off, it’s not wrong to have buttons that get pressed. As long as we have a pulse, we’re going to have particular triggers in our psyche that get triggered. Yes, in the absence of fear there is faith. But faith is found in the process. The Gospels remind us that “Jesus began to be greatly distressed and troubled” in the garden before His crucifixion. He even said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:33-34).

Jesus experienced stress and anxiety? Yes, but they were but a springboard to take Him to His Father. His journey to the cross was so difficult but freedom came when He surrendered Himself to His awesome Father-God.

That’s where we get tripped up. Often, we don’t run to the Father first. Perhaps that’s part of God’s providential purpose in difficulty and trial. As Oswald Chambers wrote, “God engineer’s circumstances to bring us closer to Him.”

The truth is, difficulty, trial and fear either bring us closer to God or drive us away from God. We fear what we don’t understand; we fear what we can’t control; we fear unplanned surprises.

It comes down to this question: When (not if) I experience fear, where do I run? Where do I go? “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline.” This verse means we have to discipline ourselves not to meditate on thoughts that increase fear. It means we meditate on the Word of God.

That’s why Jesus never sinned even though He experienced anxiety and stress. He went straight to His Father with it. Even in His humanity He cried out to the Father. After all, there was nowhere else to go.

Unfortunately, sin crept into the fabric of mankind and has provided all kinds of places for us to go. They are tidy, logical places to run to, but none fill the void of purpose and safety.

We run to:

Information: watch the news! No surprises if I’m up to date
Money: the crisis may hit, but the more cash I have, the more secure I feel
Seclusion: if I get away from people and their opinions, I’ll feel better
Exercise: if I’m in perfect shape, then I’ll never get sick

There are many other places we run to, but all are empty, because none are truly secure.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being in shape and watching the news, but when those things become “THE source” instead of a “RE source”, then we’re in trouble. None of those resources ultimately fill the gap.

That’s why David reminds us that our loving God is the only truly helpful place to run and seek peace. “For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent” (Psalm 27:5).

There are no guarantees that God will deliver us out of the difficulty, but He does promise He’ll grant us peace in the midst of the difficulty.

So, buckle your seatbelt and be aware when your triggers get pushed. When they do (and they will), call time-out. Re-create the “Jesus in the garden” experience in your soul and take it to the Father. (Mark 14:32-42). As happened to Jesus, the Father met Him there and Jesus intimately connected with Him. He took some of the disciples with Him and they fell asleep (bless their hearts). It’s a subtle reminder that as important as people are to us, they are never the ultimate answer.

As difficulty and fear fill the air, run, not walk, to our awesome God. Like Jesus, the gift of prayer is our connection to Him.

May we be driven closer to Him…

…as we rest in His care.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, January 1, 2021

Hindsight is 2020

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” -Phil. 3:13-14


Wow! Here we are: New Year’s 2021 and most of us aren’t even sure what day it is! 

This past year has been interesting, to say the least, but the truth is, every year is “interesting.” Someone said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Life has always and will always have difficulties and trials, but how we let go and move forward through them makes all the difference. 


The church in Paul’s time was much like the church today: a crazy mixture of people from all kinds of backgrounds, races, creeds and nationalities. God delights in the unity of varieties of people who surrender their lives and confess their loyalty to Him.


The church at Philippi was the first Christian church in Europe, planted by the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey around AD 50 or 51. The initial converts of the church at Philippi were Gentiles, and the congregation developed into a predominately Gentile fellowship. Women also played an essential role in the life of the church at Philippi. 


Like every church, the Philippian church consisted of Jews and Gentiles, men and moment, people trying to move on and live in the freedom of Christ. Times were hard in the New Testament world. Multiple empires claimed control, wars ravaged the land and epidemics took many lives. 


Paul knew that for these young churches to survive difficult times, they would have to embrace the moment, cling to Christ and stay focused on the call of God.


“…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…”. It would appear that Paul wasn’t good at math, as he said he did “one thing” but then listed two things. But he actually wrote it correctly. His point was that “forgetting” and “reaching” are meant to be “one thing.”


If we focus too much on “forgetting” without “reaching,” we can actually get sucked into focusing too much on the past. Like someone said, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” Healthy “forgetting” isn’t stuffing or repressing past events and choices but processing through past issues and in a healthy way, filing them away and letting go. Not literally forgetting, but “putting them away” by giving them over, in trust, to a loving God.


If we focus too much on “reaching” without “forgetting” we drag our past into the future, and it can cloud up our new plans. “Reaching forward” is the act of replacing “what was” with “what will be.” It means we’re taking steps forward to let go of the past, forgive ourselves and others, and move in a positive direction. 


The “goal for the prize” is for us to “let go and let God.” True, now that we’re in 2021, hindsight IS literally 2020. But our goal is to avoid living life in the rear-view mirror. The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” is being “present” with God today. It is being with God NOW. 


And being in that presence with God always produces peace and contentment and purpose. God is the Rock that we can lean on. He becomes the strong tower that we can run to and be safe. 


Of course, we need to “pray without ceasing” to stay present with God. Even as the current Pandemic fades into the past, there will always be other “challenges” on this side of heaven. May we all avoid living in hindsight…


…but live in foresight, in the presence of our loving, wonderful and strong God.


By Eric Joseph Staples ©