Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wiley Miller is the creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. When apolitical, Miller’s strip can be enjoyable. I cut one of his strips from a daily edition of The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC) back in the early aughts featuring “the eternal optimist.” In the one-panel comic, the grim reaper stands before a man in business attire. This eternal optimist calls to his wife in another room: “Well, honey, it doesn’t look like I have to worry about that long commute anymore.” I kept that strip until it yellowed with age and crumbled into oblivion. I did so for another reason than having a dark sense of humor. I hope I am an optimist on the order of the businessman finding something good to say even in the face of death.
Paul had such a character. He told the Philippians that he had everything to gain in death, as a Christian, and needed only remain for the sake of the brethren (Philippians 1.21-26). Nearing the end of his life, a confident Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8 NASB). Why was Paul an eternal optimist? It was not because he was free of sin. Indeed, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15). However, Paul was full of faith and understood God’s grace.
We cannot afford to live in fear, whether that fear is of death or whether we are “good enough.” We must do the will of God. John says, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB). That faith may not always take us to places providing comfort. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had their faith put to the test. Nebuchadnezzar had instructed everyone to bow to his golden image in worship. The young Hebrews refused because they remembered the Law of Moses and their covenant relationship with God. Nebuchadnezzar was angry with the young men and told them they would perish in a fiery furnace. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3.16b-18 NASB).
Did you notice why they did not fear? Can you see why they were optimistic? They understood their God was more powerful than a king and could deliver them. Yet, even if God did not deliver them, they still realized they had an obligation to serve Him regardless. These days the world seems scary. There is so much bad news on TV. But our God is more powerful. Thus, we can even say, “If I do catch COVID-19, God will deliver me. But even if He does not, I know Heaven will be my home.” Other scenarios would likewise suffice as an example. However, this is one of the things that seems to be on the minds of many today. Build your faith and become an eternal optimist as well. The world, in turn, will become a less daunting place.
Have you ever been afraid of your imagination? At times that fear can be so convincing that you truly believe that the worst case scenario is somehow inevitable. Try and make that opening question relevant to your life. Think about a specific event or experience where you were afraid of something that never came to fruition. The grip of anxiety can be debilitating as you wait for your medical test results to come in. You agonize over the poor quality of life you might have if there is ever an unexpected economic collapse. Your hairline might rapidly recede as you stress over the outcome of the war our nation is still involved in, and do I even need to mention the new global pandemic? You’re robbed of sleep as you imagine the potential horrible outcomes that may never happen. These things may never happen because the Lord could come. They may never happen because whatever you’re afraid of— it’s simply worse in your own mind. It may never happen because God has proven Himself to be one who calms the storm instead of letting you perish.
I believe we would all benefit from recalling those occasions in our past where fear proved unnecessary and we worked ourselves up for nothing! If the fear in your life has a big appetite and it’s devouring all your time and peace, maybe it’s time to feed something else. Sitting Bull once said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good. They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, ‘the one I feed the most.’” How vividly this illustrates a daily struggle for so many. Fear and faith will scrap with one another until we decide which one will win. Do you think our faith would emerge victorious every day if we could physically witness God’s power, but in a miraculous way? If my own eyes could witness Jesus bring the dead back from the grave, cast out a demon, or walk on stormy waters, then I would never worry again. Or would I? Seeing Jesus perform miracles never made anyone perfect. His disciples were far from perfect and they stood feet from the Savior while He did things only God could do.
On one occasion, which was hinted at earlier, Jesus calms the storm after being abruptly awakened by His terrified followers (Mark 4). There are some details about this account that will help us feed our faith when fear threatens to win the day.
First, our cries to God, even in the desperate times, are heard. The disciples exclaim, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Following this fearful plea, Jesus will demonstrate a fraction of His awesome power. After all, what is calming a stormy sea to the One who spoke every drop of water into existence?
Second, excessive fear of anything in this world is a foolish mistake. God is bigger and greater than our worries.
Third, God is not asleep. It may seem like He is when we don’t feel optimistic about the future, but it’s when we recognize that He’s the only answer to our peace that He will calm our storm.
Military Threats. Whether Al Qaida, the Taliban, Iranian nuclear weapon building, alliances between China, North Korea, and Russia, or armed forces spread too thin.
Natural Catastrophe. Whether global warming, meteors crashing through the atmosphere, glacial melting, California sliding off into the ocean, or events like tornadoes, tsunamis, and hurricanes.
Economic Collapse. Whether the breaking of Social Security, a major stock market crash, the mounting U.S. debt, recession, the real estate bubble bursting, bankruptcy, out of control inflation, or job losses to illegal immigrants.
Potential Persecution. Whether the steadily rising antagonism against Christianity, overthrow by foreign oppressors, the mounting tide of immorality promoting sin, or the epidemic ignorance of the Bible in our land.
Health Problems. Whether Coronavirus, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, ALS, AIDS, kidney failure, dementia, arthritis, blood clots, or liver disease.
Academic Decline. Whether comparative test scores with children in other nations, a socially-charged curriculum agenda, the “dumbing down of America,” the de-emphasis of classroom competition, or outcome-based education programs.
Rather, “Fear God” (Ecc. 5:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him” (Deut. 13:4). “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him” (Psalm 25:14). “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them. The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy” (Psalm 145:19-20). “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50). “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).
72% of Americans, age 13-24, view pornography frequently (55% of men 25 and older). Those numbers only drop to 41% and 23% of those professing to be Christians (Barna, July-August 2015, Barna Study Here). So, perhaps this was inevitable. A few years ago, potentially millions of people started receiving a disturbing email from an anonymous source claiming to have hacked into their email and installed malware to discover their pornographic consumption. Experts say these hackers have just enough facts and information to frighten many of the recipients. They attempt to blackmail the recipients, demanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bitcoin. Otherwise, they promise to email proof of their readers’ perverse, clandestine interests to everyone in their contact list.
These hackers are relying on people’s fear of being found out, thinking that if even a tiny percentage of fearful folks pay the ransom it will make their spam to millions pay off. This hoax has probably raised the heart rate of many who consume pornography but felt like they were getting away with it. But the FBI say it is just that–a hoax.
God created man with a built-in sensitivity to our accountability. Many have a “certain fearful looking for of judgment” (Heb. 10:27). Some day, the secrets of men will be judged by God through Christ (Rom. 2:16). Solomon said, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). But, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he was done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
The good news is that no one has to be afraid of the judgment or having everything which is hidden shared with the whole world. “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Peter adds, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God wants our sins to be covered by the blood of His Son. Not just “big sins” (as we distinguish them), but every sin, great and small, that we struggle with! How great to face the judgment with those sins hidden from His perfect view.
While the knowledge of my fear of snakes is widespread, some of the events of my past that hardened that horror as less so. A couple of years before moving to Colorado, we were hit by Hurricane Isabel. On our one acre lot, we had well over 100 trees. In fact, about 100 of them fell in that storm, which was the deadliest and costliest of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. Cleanup took months, as the storm shook up the environment in some notable ways. To me, the most disturbing was that it forced a great many copperhead snakes out of their dry dens and rocky hillsides down into neighborhoods like ours. In the course of several months of cutting and removing trees, we ran into about a dozen of these demonic creatures.
On one occasion, a copperhead was near my foot. Also near my foot was a garden hoe, which I promptly dispatched for the purpose of eliminating this threat. To my utter dismay, the blade of the hoe, put to the head of the snake, sank into the rain-softened ground. Rather than killing the snake, it made it mad. At this point, I was in a quandary. Pushing the hoe harder was not causing further harm to the snake, but releasing the snake from the hoe felt like a bad option, too. For what seemed like a week, I continued to work the hoe on that copperhead until it was hurt badly enough for me to properly finish the job.
Have you ever been caught on the horns of a dilemma which seemed bigger than you? As you were in the throes of it, you prayed, pleaded, and petitioned God for help. You realized that without His help, you were in big trouble. It could have been regarding your health, finances, a relationship, a sin struggle, or big decision. Most of us become keenly aware of our need of God’s intervention in moments like those. Yet, it is a helpful reminder that even when life is not so scary or circumstances are less dramatic, God is still in control. Our prayers should reflect this. Our plans should be governed by it. Our priorities should show that we get that.
What will happen to our nation in time to come? What might the church face that scares and intimidates us? What could happen in our individual lives that fills us with dread? No matter what, trust that God is always in control. Take heart in this truth: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident” (Psalm 27:1-3).
In other words, God is always in control!
…Of concerns over the future–decisions to make, the specter of tomorrow, growing old, retirement?
…Of sin–fighting temptation and not always winning, beating one thing and then finding another cropping up in its place, and the guilt it brings?
…Of disappointment–both of what I inflict and what is inflicted upon me?
…Of fear–when it comes to my spouse, my children, my parents, my brethren, our nation?
…Of doubt–whether in the process of prayer, struggles with asking God “why?,” or especially doubting myself?
…Of neglect–leaving undone things central to my purpose as a Christian due to apathy, distraction, misplaced priorities, and the like?
...Of failure–trying and not succeeding, not trying hard enough, not knowing what or how to try, and of simply falling short?
…Of betrayal–whether through gossip, lying, broken promises, insincerity, or treachery?
…Of insecurity–that can result from any of these and other struggles?
We don’t always have days when we wonder these things, but they come around often enough that they can prey on our minds. Sometimes, we face these questions due to our shortcomings. Other times, it’s because of the failings of others. Both can lead to despair.
The wonderful news is that we can be free of them all. There is a day coming when none of these will weigh us down ever again. I love the encouragement of the Hebrews’ writer, who urges, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:1-3).
Whether we are struggling due to our sinfulness or if it is any other weight, we’re encouraged to hang on and hang in there. When the struggle might be the greatest, that’s when we’ve got to turn and fix our focus on Jesus. Watch how He won! See what He did! Remember that He helps make it possible for us to fight and win.
If you are in the valley of despair right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up! Look to Jesus. Hang on! The end is in sight. Through Him, we will overcome!
Today, everyone is hurting. Whether because of gun or knife violence or vehicular homicide, groups of people in our nation and other parts of the world are being torn from time and prematurely vaulted into eternity. We weep and mourn for the loss. We consider the enormous grief and heartache multiplied many families face from California to Florida, Connecticut to Texas, Colorado to Tennessee, Virginia to Nevada (and many other places). Those whose voices we hear the most through all of this, like the national and local media, seem fixated on learning the perpetrator’s motive each time it occurs. Experts and analysts look at religious ideology or mental health issues. It seems as if they believe that if they can determine the motive, that will solve the violent epidemic that has disturbed the peace of so many people in our society. The danger of oversimplifying any specific tragedy notwithstanding, there are some right answers the world will have a difficult time embracing but that get us so much closer to resolving this plaguing problem. Why are these horrific crimes occurring?
Brethren, in this frightening, dark, and uncertain atmosphere, a world which “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), we must share what we know! John says, “We know that we are of God…and we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (5:19a, 20). We have security, confidence, understanding, and hope, all because of God and His Son. Take courage and share that with everyone you can! It’s the only hope the world has!