Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OnFire #265 Little Faith: Fear

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #265 Little Faith: Fear

We continue to look at the things which trip up our faith. 6 times Jesus rebuked lack of faith. Last time we looked at worry, and this time we look at it’s relative, fear.

A few years ago I went rapelling. I felt like I would shake apart as I backed over the edge of a 70-foot cliff. Even though I was afraid, the most amazing thing happened about half-way down. I realized I was doing it, and it felt great. I paused my descent, look around, looked up and down, and was truly surprised. I did not expect that terrifying experience of hanging so high above the ground to be so wonderful. I discovered I could trust the rope, trust the people holding the safety lines, trust my own ability to hold on. When I finished I ran back up the path to get in line again.

In Matthew 8 we find the disciples in the boat with Jesus, travelling from the area of Capernaum to the other side of the lake. A violent storm arose and when the waves started to fill the boat, the disciples (among whom were a number of seasoned fishermen) woke Jesus. "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"

Jesus responded immediately, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (8:26)

In this exchange we discover that fear may affect our faith and hold us back from trusting God.

I don’t believe the issue was fear itself. This is a natural reaction. The issue was the impulse to think, “I shouldn’t have come in the first place.” Or perhaps, “Is this why God brought me here, only to abandon me at the worst time?”

The insight for this comes from the verses leading up to this episode. In verse 18 Jesus gave the order to get into the boat and cross the lake. Jesus was ready, evidently feeling that it was necessary to leave right away. One man offered himself, claiming he would follow Jesus wherever he went, but Jesus answered in a way which leads us to think the man was secretly afraid of the lack of security and comfort Jesus could offer: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (8:20)

Another man was willing to follow Jesus, but wanted to wait until he had the chance to bury his father (8:21). There was nothing wrong with wanting to fulfill this family duty, but timing was the issue. Jesus was leaving and so he had to make a choice. When it came right down to it, would he follow Jesus, or was he more afraid of how his family might react if he did?

The disciples followed when others had not (8:23). This was a good thing, but when the storm hit and the waves beat the boat, they really were not much different from those they left on shore. They gave the impression of faithfulness, but fears battered their resolve. “It would have been better if we had stayed with those on shore...” I think that’s what they were thinking when they cried out, “Save us, we’re going to drown!”

Fear is what we feel when we no longer feel safe, when we worry, when we move past our level of comfort, when we exceed our experience, or when present circumstances remind us of past trouble. It is a natural emotion and we all feel it.

The difference between fear and faith is this. Fear says, “I can’t go forward,” or “I wish I could go back.” Faith says, “I am afraid, but I will move ahead anyway because I trust God to bring me through.”

This is not about conquering our fears. It is not by our mighty strength that we do this. Sure, motivational speakers pump us up to make us realize that we were stronger than we thought. But even they have fears they cannot conquer. No one is fearless, but that’s not the point..

Faith is about being afraid, but moving ahead anyway because we trust that God is in it. Faith is about believing that it is better move ahead, even in fear, than to stay where we are or to go back. In this way faith is related to courage, but it is a courage grounded in the belief that God is good and that God goes with us.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a bi-weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Sept 28, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Onfire #264 Little Faith Big Faith: Worry

OnFire Encouragement Letter

Onfire #264 Little Faith Big Faith: Worry

I read lately that worry is a negative emotion. Really? Is there someone who thinks that worry is a positive emotion? Would anyone mistake it for something good? Look at all the synonyms: anxiety, nervousness, concern, disquiet, anguish, apprehension, fear, torment, uncertainty, and the list goes on. I don’t think people lie awake at night because they have so much joy in their hearts.

Worry is the first of the “little faith” topics. Jesus spoke about worry in the sermon on the mount. “O, you of little faith,” he said. Why worry about what we will eat or wear since God feeds the birds and dresses the flowers? Aren’t we are more important to Him than these? I’m summarizing, so be sure to read the whole passage in Matthew 6:24-34.

It would be interesting to know how much worry costs us. We take expensive trips to “get away from it all.” We treat ourselves to take our minds off our problems. We fill our lives with activity and distraction hoping our problems will just go away. We haven’t even talked about the more destructive things we might do to try to forget our problems for a time. Nor have we talked about the cost of illnesses brought on by worry. Ironically, it all comes with a price tag, and then we worry about that, too.

Speaking of irony, sometimes we worry because we have nothing to worry about. How many times have we wondered how long it would be before something bad happens again!!

The solution to the problem of worry comes from the context of the passage. In v. 24 we read, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The first mistake we often make in understanding the passage is to separate this verse from what follows. Often we insert a stop here and read the next section as a different topic. Money, then worry. But we cannot separate the two because Jesus connects them in v. 25: “Therefore...”

The second mistake we make is thinking that love of money is the source of the problem. We get this from Jesus’ statement, “You cannot serve both God and money,” but this is not where Jesus started: “No one can serve two masters.”

Worry is about divided loyalties. We say we follow Jesus, but actually we’ve allowed another master to step in front. That other master may be money, but it could also be pride, our ability to think, plan, to improve ourselves, or even the desire to escape. In order to discover the other master we are trying to serve, we might ask ourselves, “My life would be better if only...”

How do we get back on the right track, to serve God wholeheartedly, and with great faith? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (V.33) Jesus tells us that we can leave worry behind by choosing to focus our thoughts and attention on God and serving Him. We can choose not to worry. This is not like the old song, “Don’t worry, be happy.” This is the choice to focus on something better than worry, on making God’s thoughts our thoughts. When we do this, worry goes away, and God makes sure we have the things we really need.

I’m not going to pretend to have this one mastered. I have to admit that I’m a little uncomfortable writing because I feel the sting of rebuke. I find myself worrying about things all the time, maybe not about what I will eat or wear, but certainly about finances, problems and situations, and all sorts of “what ifs.”

For all of us it all comes down to trust. Do we trust God to provide what we need, when we need it? Worry is the clue that we’re trusting in something we think we can provide. Jesus reminds us that our way doesn’t work. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (V.27) Jesus calls us to trust in God’s ability to provide.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Sept 12, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at