I’m Focusing On…. (6/25/17)

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Fear is something we have to deal with in every stage of life. Our fears typically change as we do. When I was a young boy, I was afraid my parents would die and I wouldn’t have anyone to raise me. As a young parent, I was concerned about the kind of world our children would have to live in. Now that I’m in my late 40s and more mature in my Christian faith, I try not to fear. The truth is sometimes fears still arise in me.

If you’re honest, you have fears too because we live in a world of uncertainty and evil. We understand the uncertainty. The state of the U.S. economy is always on our minds because it affects our livelihood. Every year we wonder if there will be the proper mixture of rain and sunshine for our crops and gardens to be fruitful. We never know when accidents, sickness or financial problems will come upon us.

We know the world is evil when innocent men, women and children are killed because of their religious beliefs. It’s evil when a nation sends people to prison for killing endangered animals but uses public funds to abort unborn children. The various types of slavery that are still practiced is virtually every nation on earth reveals how wicked things really are.

These are but a few of the examples of the uncertainty and evil that surrounds us. We’re aware there are many other examples out there. Right now, we’re all facing some difficulties and perhaps even evils in our lives. As we wonder how these situations will play out, we typically fear the worst. This drains our emotional strength and wears us down.

As followers of Jesus, we know we should look to God for deliverance and peace. We pray and ask God to deliver us from the things that are causing us to be afraid. The reality is God usually doesn’t deliver us the way we want him to and he usually takes too long to do it.

This leads to the heartfelt cries of “God, where are you?” “Why is this happening to me?” “Why are you taking so long?” These cries aren’t unique to us. God’s people have been asking these questions since creation. Fortunately for us, the Bible offers us hope as we struggle with fear.

Mark 4:35 – 41 begins by telling us,35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Go over to the other side of what? Jesus and his disciples were on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus wanted to cross the sea. Understanding the location is vital if we truly want to understand what Mark is teaching in this passage.

The story continues. 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

At first glance, it appears this story simply teaches that Jesus has the ability to control the forces of nature. That in itself is quite a feat because no one else in history has been able to duplicate it. It’s a good reason to believe that Jesus is powerful.

However, there’s more to this story than Jesus’ power over nature. We also need to understand how people in the Bible viewed the sea. We can’t read our modern understanding of it into the story. We typically think of the sea as being a place to relax and unwind. People go to the beach to enjoy themselves. They play in the surf, jet ski and fish.

This isn’t how the Jews in the Bible viewed it. They viewed the sea as a place of:

*Sin. Isaiah 57:20 says, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” Notice how this verse compares the actions of those who do evil with the after-effects of turbulent waters. They don’t just affect themselves. They bring chaos to everything around them.

*Trouble. Jeremiah 49:23 says, “Concerning Damascus: Hamath and Arpad are dismayed, for they have heard bad news. They are disheartened, troubled like the restless sea.” This passage is among those telling the nations surrounding Israel that God will destroy them for their wickedness. The sea isn’t a place to relax. It’s a place of restlessness and distress.

*Doubt. James 1:5-6 tells us, “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Notice the image of uncertainty regarding the sea in this passage. It isn’t portrayed as a place of security but as a place of confusion.

*Evil. Revelation 13:1 says, “And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.” The sea was the birthplace of evil in the Jewish mindset.

During the time Jesus walked the earth, the sea was a place to be feared. This was the viewpoint of the disciples who were with Jesus as well as the recipients of Mark’s letter. Mark wasn’t just trying to show the recipients of his letter that Jesus has the ability to override the laws of nature. He was also saying, “Have faith. Jesus is more powerful than the sources of your fears.”

One day the sources of our fears – sin, trouble, uncertainties of life and evil – will be destroyed. How do we know this? Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” Unfortunately, that day hasn’t arrived yet. While Jesus has calmed many of our fears from the past, we still live with the fears we have today.

So, the question is: What do we do with our fears?

In, From This Verse, Robert Morgan tells this story: “When businessman Allen Emery was in the wool business, he once spent an evening with a shepherd on the Texas prairie. During the night, the long wail of coyotes pierced the air. The shepherd’s dogs growled and peered into the darkness. The sheep, which had been sleeping, lumbered to their feet, alarmed, bleating pitifully. The shepherd tossed more logs onto the fire, and the flames shot up. In the glow, Allen looked out and saw thousands of little lights. He realized those were the reflections of the fire in the eyes of the sheep.

‘In the midst of danger,’ he observed, ‘the sheep were not looking out into the darkness but were keeping their eyes set in the direction of their safety, looking toward the shepherd.’”

Sometimes in life we feel like the sheep in this story – alarmed and bleating pitifully about our worries and fears.

When these moments come, do we focus on the danger and the darkness or do we focus on the Shepherd who can calm the storm and, ultimately, our fears?

When fear invades your thoughts and emotions, use your strength and energy to focus on Jesus. Pray. Read the Bible. Contact another Christian you trust and talk with him or her. Don’t stare into the darkness. Look towards the Shepherd.