Fear or Faith? It’s a Choice

Have you ever noticed that when the phrase “fear not” is used in the bible it is almost always used when fear is a normal human response to a given situation? For example, in Genesis 50 we see Joseph’s brother’s cowering in fear before him. Their dad had died, and they were now concerned and fearful that Joseph may have second thoughts about really forgiving them for all the wrong they had done to him and respond with severe consequences. But look at Joseph’s response in Genesis 50.  He exhorts them to “fear not” and adds “am I in the place of God”. Just two verses later he exhorts them to “fear not” and assures them of his care and protection. In Exodus 14 when the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptian army the people were extremely afraid since they were boxed in by the Red Sea and had nowhere to go.  But what was the God inspired exhortation from Moses? “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13a).  Numerous other times we see God’s exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” in response to threats of oppression, violence and war. At other times the people have no food or water, basic provisions and what is their response? Fear. But what does God say? FEAR NOT. And he always provides! We see this so clearly in the opening verses of Joshua when the Lord exhorts him in the same way, but with an addition – Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Mmmm. It seems that fear can reveal where our trust and faith is rooted.

Now, I understand there is a good kind of fear. Fear of getting an awful shock is what keeps us from doing something unwise around electricity. Fear of falling off of a cliff to certain death keeps us from getting too close to the edge. You know what I’m talking about. That’s not quite what I’m getting at here though.

I’m referring to a deep-seated, deeply rooted view of life that is anchored in fear. So often (more often than not?) we don’t even realize we are living with that going on. It’s underneath the surface until something happens.  Ongoing, habitual fear is rooted in a lack of trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness, especially when the results don’t turn out the way we would want or imagine. Fear, like faith, are both incredibly powerful drivers in our lives. One drives us to despair and the other to peace in the midst of difficulty. For God to say “fear not” means that we look to the alternative – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this case I would equate trust and faith.  Hebrews 11:6 says it like this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”. It doesn’t mean that we always get what we desire. It means that we submit our desires to him and trust him whatever the outcome.  It is easy to express faith and trust in God when things are going good – there is plenty of money in the bank, the kids are doing okay, my marriage is going okay or the relationship I’m in is healthy, school is going okay, I’m physically healthy and well, etc. It is when we are in the times of testing, trial, suffering and hardship that what we really believe about God is revealed or shaken. When what we are ultimately trusting in or whatever serves as our primary source of joy, contentment and fulfillment – that person, thing, idea, etc.- is taken away – how will we respond? What does our response reveal about our hearts and minds?

Grief and sadness over any kind of loss is normal and okay. Unsettling circumstances can result in a jolt of fear for sure and we are certainly living there a lot these days.  We just don’t want to stay there, right? If we are given to fear regularly or live in that mindset, we might very well need to make an adjustment.  How does that happen? Speaking the truth of God’s Word to ourselves with regularity is key.  I don’t just mean reading the bible perfunctorily, but rather with the goal of preaching the truth to ourselves where we are constantly reminding ourselves of the truth (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-4). We have to constantly and regularly put ON the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This is a very powerful and transforming action and can literally change the way we think and react over time. Prayer is key. And again, regularity and consistency is of the utmost importance. That’s why both Jesus and Paul tell us to pray “always” (Luke 18:1; I Thessalonians 5:17).  These things and others (Fellowship with believers, Scripture memory, Fasting, etc.) build faith and trust. It is so exciting to sense your faith growing over time! It doesn’t mean you never fear, but it does mean that you begin to respond to circumstances differently and in ways that give glory and honor to God and strengthen your own heart at the same time.  

Grace & Peace,

Jon Eric Woodward

Isolation and Spiritual Warfare

Have you ever watched those National Geographic shows where a lion, cheetah or wolf, etc. are chasing a herd of quarry? What are they focused on? Is the herd, as a whole, in their view? Na. Nope. Nada. They are looking for that one animal that for whatever reason gets separated from the herd and becomes isolated and alone. They are pretty much done for when that happens. We’ve seen it in the animal world and it’s not pretty. Not always, but almost always a disaster awaits the one who gets separated from the flock or herd.

Scripture tells us clearly that we have a predator, an enemy, who seeks to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). In an even more vivid description, Peter exhorts us to, Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). In addition, Solomon, the wisest guy who ever lived, tells us in Proverbs 18:1 that He who separates himself seeks his own desire and he quarrels against all sound wisdom. So, what do we learn about isolation? What is the takeaway from these passages?

To intentionally separate from the herd is not a wise move. To move away from the body, the family is not wise. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand some live alone because they don’t have a choice. I’m not referring to those kind of situations. I’m referring to more of a way of life. A choice to do life on my own without letting others in. A choice to live in isolation away from other believers is unbiblical and unwise. That can be dangerous. To continue the illustration from above, when someone gets into a situation where they are isolated and separated from fellowship and the encouragement of other believers, the potential for us to get into problems is even greater. When a young calf strays from the protection of the herd, it’s only a matter of time before the eyes of the predator are on that animal. It’s no different in the spiritual arena with us as believers. Acts 2:42-47 is such a beautiful description of Christian fellowship where life thrives. There is a unity and harmony because each individual focuses on the well being of others and not themselves only.

The bottom line, whether we realize it or not, is that we do indeed need each other! We need fellowship. We need to sing together. We need to worship together. We need to eat together and have communion together. We need to be in one another’s presence. We need to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). We need to do that up close.

Now at this point you are saying, but, JE we are in this crazy COVID-19 time! Are you out of your mind? I understand that many must be intentionally self-isolated due to health concerns. Absolutely. I get it. But, there are ways to attempt to stay connected. There is a lady in our church with a life-threatening health concern and she absolutely can’t get out because of that. But even during this unpredictable and challenging time she has fought to stay connected. She has fought for fellowship. How? She’s on the phone almost every day, reaching out to other women ministering to them asking how she can pray for and encourage them. She keeps zooming with various small groups, even though “zoom fatigue” sets in and she gets tired of that format. She and her husband pray together. She reaches out to her children and grandchildren, sometimes through email, the phone, Facetime or text. She has stayed active even though her health is in jeopardy. She has pursued others like a bull dog, yes to minister to others, but also to receive the blessing of ministry from others. In the same way that John Piper says that we often have to fight for joy, sometimes and in some seasons, we have to fight for fellowship – nearness to others in unique and perhaps foreign ways to us. But, it’s worth it. There’s joy to be found. There’s encouragement to be found!

So, regardless of your circumstances or personality type, go for it. Pick up the phone. Reach out to another believer and check on them. Pray together over the phone. Facetime. Email. Text. Do something! But don’t allow yourself to sink into despair because of isolation. Don’t separate yourself and stay there, even if it’s not your choice. There is a battle raging on around us and we do have an enemy who wants to take us down and one of the primary ways he does his dirty work is to separate us from healthy, vibrant, challenging, life giving fellowship and community. I can’t live without it and neither can you.

So, yes, be wise and discerning in these days, but don’t let yourself be duped into thinking that living in isolation is okay. Don’t allow your mind, heart and thinking to be shaped by social media and what hits us in the face on the TV. Soak your heart and mind in the Word. Be sensitive to the wooing and leading of the Holy Spirit. And look to the Body, the Church, His Bride, His people, you and me, yes to one another to serve and minister to. There are ways and means available no matter what your situation! If you’d like to talk about it further, give me a call. I’d love to fellowship with you!

What does real love look like in the Body of Christ?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

Jesus makes it very clear that we are to love one another. But what does that look like exactly? How do we love one another in tangible ways? Thankfully, the Lord didn’t leave us guessing on those questions. In this blog, I’d like to let Scripture guide our thoughts on what loving each other during this time might look like. There are numerous passages like Romans 12:9-10, I Cor. 13, 16:14; Galatians 5:13-14, etc. that we could look at. But for this blog we’ll just look at one.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 2:1-5

Notice that Paul uses the words, encouragement, comfort, love, affection, sympathy, joy, humility . . . all of these words make me think of family, or at least what we would want in a family. Right? All of this, of course, is based on God’s love for us in Christ. In verses 3-4 Paul puts a spotlight on what love and humility doesn’t look like. The opposite of love is selfishness, thinking of our own preferences, ambitions, desires, as well as conceitedness. Paul strongly exhorts us to not only “think of our own interests” but “also the interests of others”. He tells us how to think, not just act toward each other. We prove that we have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16) when we are Christlike to others. We reveal that we truly love one another when our behavior is genuinely other focused. When we put others first in our thinking and actions Christ’s love is coming out of us! It is being expressed.

So, during this crazy time that we are in let’s consider a few questions:

  • How might this affect what I write and before I press “send” in a social media post?
  • How might this affect my thoughts to those who do or don’t wear a mask?
  • How might this impact how I pray for leaders across the spectrum? In fact, am I praying for my leaders?

How might this impact my interactions with those I differ in opinion on? Brothers and sisters, let all we do, say and think be marked by love.  Remember, the world will only know that we are Christ’s disciples IF we have love for one another! Let’s guard our hearts and mouths in these days in such a way that we truly speak the truth in love.

Fight to Connect

I had the opportunity last night to briefly meet with the worship and technical teams before they began preparing for the services for this week. Just walking into our auditorium where our church family gathers week to week did something inside of me. But when I saw the faces of those I love and minister with regularly my heart was overcome with emotion and gratitude. I wanted so badly just to reach out and embrace and encourage each of them. We stood in a circle, trying to stay apart appropriately, and I attempted to encourage and thank them for all the work they were putting in. As we prayed my heart again was moved with emotion. I was just grateful to be with my brothers and sisters, to look into their eyes and see them face to face. I didn’t realize how much I missed them and all of you. I share Pastor Aaron’s longing to meet together again with all of you.  I long to lift my voice in worship together, corporately, with all of you. I long to lift my prayers to God together with you. I eagerly desire hearing God’s Word preached and taught as hundreds of us are gathered together. I look forward to seeing so many of you in the foyer, out in the parking lot and all over our campus.

Hebrews 10:24-25 has never been more real to me than now – when I can’t experience being together with you all.  

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting

            to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the

            more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

So, let’s do just that………consider how. We are having to be quite creative and to fight for fellowship these days aren’t we? We use Zoom, talking on our phones, FaceTiming, texting, emailing, even for some writing letters or cards; all in attempts to “meet together” to connect. Why? Because we were created for community and not isolation. This is why, in part, this new normal is so difficult. We weren’t created to walk this life alone. No, we do indeed need each other. This is why so many of our kids are anticipating going back to school – so they can be with their friends. We, like them, want to get out of the house, to see another human being – face-to-face. The bottom line is that we need both solitude and community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s small but powerful book Life Together points to this where he says,

            “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

As we continue to live in new degree’s of isolation and togetherness, consider how to reach out to one another, whether that is your normal pattern or not. I encourage you to call your families, do a Zoom or conference call with a friend, neighbor or coworker. Write that letter, send that email or text. When you see your neighbor outside, speak to them. Get out and take a walk and pray to the God who lives in eternal unity and fellowship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

We live in an unprecedented time where community is needed more than ever. I long for the day when we are together again, but until then I will fight to connect to do life together. I invite you into the new journey of doing life together.

Pastor Jon Eric

The Strength, Encouragement & Power of God’s Word

Isaiah 40:6-31 is an amazing passage of Scripture that is so encouraging, comforting, challenging and uplifting. Verses 6-8 remind us of the frailty of mankind in this life (compared to grass and flowers) and in contrast the eternity and the power of the Word of God. 

Verses 9-11 reveals that although our Sovereign God is all powerful (Omnipotence) and He rules justly, He also takes care of us like a shepherd tends and gathers His lambs.  He gently holds us in His arms, close to His heart. In addition, He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek and obey Him (Vs. 10b & Hebrews 11:6).

The word “who” is repeated 6x’s in three verses (12-14) asking the question “who did all these things”, referring to all of creation.  The text goes even further to reveal that our great God had no counselor or advisor as He created everything that exists, and that He, as the Sovereign ruler of all, has never needed nor will ever need any assistance in sustaining or ruling over His creation. Our amazing God is omniscient (He knows everything) and therefore is fully capable of ruling and reigning over all things.

Lest we think that God’s Omniscience and Omnipotence are limited, verses 15-17 make it clear they are not, but rather are over all nations. The nations are but a “drop in the bucket” to our great and awesome God (vs. 15). Hebrews 4:13 makes it clear that nothing is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. This reveals God’s omnipresence (God everywhere at the same time).  Mind blowing, right?

As a result, it is a ridiculous thought then to reduce God to mere images and objects of worship (verses 18-20.  It is a horrible attempt to reduce God to what our small minds can conceive God as. Isaiah blasts this blasphemous thought and idea by proclaiming in even more vivid detail truth about who God is and what He has done (verses 21-25).  We, like grass and flowers before, are now compared to grasshoppers (vs. 22).  There is no one greater than our God, not kings, rulers or princes. He simply blows on them and like the grass, flowers and grasshoppers, they perish like, when a whirlwind sweeps away chaff (vs. 23-24).

In verse 26 we are called to look to all creation (general revelation) for evidence of who God is and what He has done (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20). God does indeed speak through all that He has created! Yes, we are without excuse based on God’s self-revelation in all of creation.

Verse 27 reveals that our ways are not hidden from the Lord.  Our lives and the paths that we are on are not out of God’s sight. God has not forgotten us. He knows our joys and sorrows and has bottled up our tears and knows our wanderings (Psalm 56:8).  He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14).

Then the finale and summary truth about God comes in verses 28-31.  Read it and glory in who God is and what He has done and continues to do today:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary they will walk and not be faint.

The Word of God can bring perspective, insight, wisdom, discernment, strength, comfort and peace to us if we will but believe and trust in it (Psalm 119; Proverbs 1-9).  God has revealed Himself in the general revelation of creation for sure, but He has specifically revealed Himself in the Scriptures! In this passage of Scripture, God has given us insight into who He is and what He has done on our behalf.  This is why we need all of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments.  Look at all of life through the lens and filter of God’s Word and more of life will make sense. We won’t have all the answers this side of heaven (Deuteronomy 29:29), but we can live life very differently if we will take Him at His Word.