Fear Not

FEAR NOT PIC

I’ve often written about fear, but it seems to be on the Lord’s mind this morning so here we go again. If a lesson can be repeated over and over in the Bible, I guess it’s not redundant if I do the same.

As anyone who has paid attention to the news lately will know, fear is rampant throughout the world. The latest international incident motivating fear was the attacks against women that occurred in Germany and throughout a number of other European countries on New Years Eve. Nationally, it’s the story of a police officer in Philadelphia whose assailant walked right up to the window of the patrol car and blasted away, critically wounding him. As I watched a news program last night, I lost count of the number of times someone said, “I’m afraid,” “Should we be afraid?” or “You/we should be afraid.” But I’m here to say, NO, we shouldn’t.

Fear is NOT God’s plan for His people, as He made clear to me once again this morning. Currently, I’m reading in Genesis, Isaiah, and Matthew, which obviously covers a pretty broad span of time, yet God’s message never changes, so just from my devotional time this morning without considering the hundreds of other biblical references to ‘fear’ or ‘afraid’ (do a word search, and you’ll be reading for hours!):

And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Isaiah 8:11-13

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced. Isaiah 54:4a

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

Jesus is the antidote for our hopelessness and fears, whether they are phony or based on very real threats, such as the terrorism that is rampant throughout our world. Fear not, for I am with you says the Lord!

Standing In Faith

Barbara ParkerAs we approach Christmas, many of us reach out to others a bit more than usual, perhaps re-connecting with people we haven’t been in touch with lately; perhaps finding ways to help those who are less fortunate; perhaps greeting total strangers with a, “Merry Christmas.” Also, as one year concludes and a new one approaches, we often find ourselves in a self-evaluation mode. We examine what have we accomplished as well as what should we do differently next year, and such a process is scriptural:

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5

I’d like to do a bit of both in this post that doubles as an announcement to the Standing In Faith group on LinkedIn and an invitation to join us, offering first a quick review of our group, and then sharing with old friends and new, the message of hope the Lord has given me.

The Standing In Faith discussion group began as a leap of faith on my part in March 2011. New to LinkedIn and not a big fan of social media, it was quite a surprise when the Lord impressed me to form the group, and from the very beginning He has had full ownership. This is not my group—it is His, and I’m simply His group manager. There have been several times that I’ve wanted to shut it down because it seemed as if it was going nowhere and accomplishing nothing, but His permission for that to happen was never given. Now, in retrospect, I am in awe of what He is doing, and I’m well aware that He is accomplishing His work through the group in ways that I will never be aware of this side of eternity, which is very exciting. Our growth during 2015 has been astounding, and there are new members every day from nations around the world. This is an international outreach such as I never could’ve imagined, and I welcome all of our new members and pray that the fellowship we have here will bless and encourage you in your Christian walk.

From the beginning, the Lord designed Standing In Faith around the passion He has given me for the Body of Christ to live by faith and to operate in unity, and our stated purpose is, “To encourage Christians to live by faith and not by sight, building each another up in the unity of faith that we share in Christ Jesus.”

With that purpose in mind, there are a couple of things about this group that may differ from other groups; things that don’t make us any better or worse, but just different. First is that the Lord has led me to accept everyone who requests membership without any pre-screening, just as He is willing to accept all who come to Him. Second, while we often discuss our differences of opinion, we do not enter into divisive debates or arguments, and no comments are allowed that denigrate the person or faith of another. This can pose a huge dilemma for me as the “referee”, and I must rely strictly on the Lord’s leadership regarding which discussions and comments to allow and which ones to deny, so I would appreciate your prayers for His wisdom in this regard, as well as your understanding and forgiveness if I make a mistake in judgment. I do not agree with everything that is posted here, nor will you, but instead of taking offense and arguing with every statement, please respond from a spirit of love that displays the grace and mercy of the Lord. We are not all “on the same page” doctrinally, but instead of allowing the enemy to separate us as has been done for centuries, we consciously choose to set our differences aside and focus on Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

As you may be aware, LinkedIn has recently re-designed much in regard to groups, and both the appearance and the function has been affected. Visually, it is easier to quickly scan through discussions, but it is also harder to get the full impact of a discussion without choosing the option for “more” in order to read the entire text of the comments. I would encourage everyone to dig deeper into the “more” of our discussions to get the full benefit of what each person has to say. Also, the space allotted for text has been diminished, so it is more important than ever to try to make a point succinctly.

Previously, the group was open and a request to join received automatic approval, but now every membership request comes to me first. As mentioned before, none are turned away, but any member’s contributions may still be designated for pre-approval if they are deemed to be divisive or off the topic of faith in Jesus; and any individual may be completely banned from the group at my discretion (this has only happened with 3 people whose obvious intent was disruption and destruction). Also, please be aware that with this new system, for reasons I certainly do not understand, LinkedIn is flagging as inappropriate many entries that are fully acceptable, so please be patient if your submission doesn’t appear immediately. I try to turn everything around within 24 hours or sooner, but occasionally that isn’t possible.

Please review the group rules since there have been a few changes to remain in alignment with LinkedIn’s way of doing things. Also, please remember that we do not focus on personal agendas, make political statements, or doctrinal positions; but we discuss the traditional Christian values of the majority. That said, it is difficult to completely avoid the political arena since it has such a huge impact on our lives, but our goal is to approach any such discussions with the intent of illuminating God’s truth and not man’s opinion.

Enough review, and on to our Hope! This morning, the Lord highlighted some phrases to me from Hebrews 3 that are relevant to Standing In Faith.

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession…[who] is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope…Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Our “today” is a day in which hearts have become hard throughout the world. Jesus warnings of end times events are occurring right before our eyes. His words (Matthew 24:4-14) resonate with what we see and hear daily:

“See that no one leads you astray.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

We are not to despair! Buried in a passage where many accentuate the negative, is one of the most promising phrases in scripture. “See that you are not alarmed,” isn’t just an impossible suggestion, for Jesus would never have advised something we cannot accomplish. In Him we have hope, He is our strength and our refuge, and we need not fear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3-7

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalms 46:1

At Christmas we often hear people saying that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that’s true; but I’d take it a bit farther to declare that Jesus is the reason for every season in our lives. Our very existence here on earth is designed to bring honor and glory to Him, and the fact that we are here “today” is by His design, and He has a purpose for each of our lives.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalms 139:16

So what does this have to do with Standing In Faith? Go back to the Hebrews passage from which the Lord spoke to me today, for this is the re-affirmation of our purpose:

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

May our Lord be with you all, may He bless and keep you throughout this and every season, and may He make you a blessing to others as you all are to me. Merry Christmas to all, along with my prayers and best wishes that in the year to come each person will find their strength in Him and will learn to stand in faith as never before. My prayer for each of us is from Hebrews 4:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…Let us hold fast our confession…Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

 

 

Is All Hope Gone?

IMG_1526He’s up well before dawn, already glued to his display of computer monitors.  Hour after hour after hour, he watches; analyzing every dip or gain on his screens; debating with himself the best course of action; celebrating or mourning his bottom line.  His whole life depends on how well he can play the game—the new home, the Lexus in the driveway, the kids’ private schools—all potentially gone in an instant.  He recalls the stories his dad told him of Black Tuesday, that terrible day in 1929 when the stock market crashed and people were literally jumping out of windows to their death.  What if it happens again?  What if he loses everything?

She stares intently into the mirror.  Is that little line a new wrinkle?  Better make an appointment for some more Botox.  Sure is a good thing she’s got great hair—oh, but wait; is that a strand of gray?  Breakfast is on the run with the latest high nutrition/low-calorie energy drink in hand, and she’s off to the gym to run and climb and lift and push and pull.  By the time she’s finished, every muscle in her body will have had a workout, and every ounce of fat will have been burned away.  Her career depends on looking great, no matter how hard the advancing years are pressing in; and she so stressed out by it all that somewhere in the week she really must make some time to see her therapist.

And so goes life for many people; perhaps in ways not as obvious as the illustrations above, but still jam-packed with worry and stress about jobs, family, education, health, the economy, world affairs.  Gone are the legendary ‘good old days’ when life was beautiful all the time.  Hope has disappeared, and the future looks bleak.  Just turn on the news if you think otherwise.  Right?

Wrong!!!

Hopelessness, discouragement, depression, fear; all of them are nothing less than smokescreens designed to keep mankind from seeing the truth that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  God’s light, and His words of love prove it better than anything I could ever say…

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. Psalm 20:7-8

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. Psalm 16:8-9

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-3

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:5

I Had a Dream of the Triumphant Church

 

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Echoing in my mind as I awoke a few days ago were the words made famous by Martin Luther King, “I had a dream;” and for the night that had just transpired, that was one of the biggest understatements imaginable. It had been an amazing experience as one dream segment flowed into another, and then another—waking often for a brief moment, only to quickly fall back to sleep for a continuation of the sequence. When morning finally arrived I knew I needed to write as much of it down as possible, but already the scenes were quickly fading.

In a dream, in a vision of the night, When deep sleep falls upon men, While slumbering on their beds, Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction. Job 33:15-16

Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. Psalm 73:20

What remained was the sure and certain knowledge that I had just witnessed the glory of the LORD being released among His people in a way that we perhaps have never seen since the first Pentecost; since that day when Jesus’ followers who had obediently waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit finally received Him.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

Failing to recall all of the specifics, yet still reeling from the weighty presence of God throughout the night, I wrote the little that I could recall in my journal; and yet I knew that in one of my waking moments a familiar song had been resounding in my spirit, a song I knew I wouldn’t forget; but I did. So I asked the LORD to remind me if it was important and, to be quite honest, I didn’t really expect Him to do it. But i immediately remembered the Gaither’s incredible song, The Church Triumphant. Please, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtCV_ysZC04 to listen and be blessed by the song, and join with me to rejoice that God’s Church is indeed alive and well.

In recent times, many of us have focused much attention on terrible circumstances—the terrible state of the world, the terrible state of the economy, the terrible state of our families or relationships, the terrible state of the modern-day church that has so compromised itself with the world. And indeed, the terrible truth of Romans 2:18-34 is everywhere we look.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

I would now contend that it’s time for the Church to change its focus. The evil all around us is only going to increase until the Day of the Lord, but we needn’t allow that to distract us from our triumphant Jesus. As a picture is blurred when the focus is off, so is the vision of the Church; and all we need is a simple adjustment to turn our gaze upon the One who has already overcome all evil at the cross. Romans 1:16-17 remains just as relevant today as the succeeding verses that were just quoted…

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Remember those faithful disciples who went into that upper room and waited for the coming of the Spirit? Many of us have much in common with them! We have been waiting for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit for years and years and years. We have waited and waited, standing in faith on the promises of God. What if our wait is just about over? I absolutely believe it is!  I’ve have held onto that promise for such a long time it seems; but now, after that night of glory-filled dreams in which the church was exploding for righteousness at every turn, I’m certain that the Church, God’s Church, is very definitely alive and well; and the triumphant power of Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit is even now being poured out upon the world.

Let this day of Pentecost be a day that history will look back at as the turning point, as the day when the Holy Spirit began to blow anew throughout creation to revolutionize the Bride of Christ as she prepares for the arrival of her Bridegroom.

The Wonder of Our God

 

Cousins Barbara Eva Leonard Eddie etc 1955 corrected

 

Growing up, we lived near the families of two of my dad’s brothers and I was close to a couple of cousins who were about my age. As my younger siblings began arriving, so did younger cousins—all of whom we considered the “little kids.” It’s amazing how distant five or six years seem during our formative years, and how such age differences shrink into insignificance as adults.

Crystal was one of the little kids, so after my family moved away when I was seventeen we lost touch for many years. About five years ago Crystal started calling occasionally and we’d talk awhile, but still didn’t know one another well. Eventually though, we discovered that we are both passionate about God in a way that many others in our extended family are not; and a spiritual bond began to form.

The last few years have been very difficult for Crystal, with catastrophic illnesses plaguing her husband that have left him permanently disabled; a multitude of other cascading problems; and, in just the last year, she lost both parents as well as two of other close family members. Sinking into a place of deep despair, she continued crying out to God and, as always, He has been faithful. I share the background of Crystal’s difficulties to illustrate the wonder of the sufficiency of our Lord, even in the midst of our most desperate times. In her words…

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I was walking the puppies, and out near the edge of our mowed lawn is the wilder part where the more natural grasses grow up to a height of about 18 inches.

It’s early spring and the wildflowers have just started to bloom here and there. Over the years, as I’ve taken photos of our flowers, I’ve found that some of my very favorites are the tiny wild flowers. At first glance, looking down at them from about five feet above, they don’t look all that impressive. But when I bend down and focus on the tiny blooms, some not more than an inch across, I am amazed to see the glorious details of the little petals and stamens, complete with pollen.

This day, walking near the edge of the lawn, I noticed a lone grouping of three fronds of one of these little Missouri wildflowers. It was white and delicate with little yellow stamens.

I wondered, “Will this little flower survive without anyone but the good Lord up above watering it and caring for it?” I also pondered the question, “What good will this little flower be?  If I hadn’t just happened to walk out here, nobody would even have enjoyed its beauty.”

Just then, a huge black-and-yellow-striped bumblebee, about an inch long and a half-inch wide, buzzed in and landed on the tiny wildflower. This is the kind of bumblebee I used to see growing up in Northern California where we used to love to catch them in the lupine bushes in quart glass Mason jars because we always liked to hear them “sing” as they buzzed.

It was always fun to find one that had lots of pollen dots on its back legs, gathered and distributed along its travels. I’ve since learned that many flowers don’t pollinate unless a bee comes along to do it for them.

So, here was this little lone wildflower and I watched, mesmerized, as the big bumblebee adeptly and carefully visited each and every little open petal.

I felt ashamed that I had so quickly judged the seemingly insignificant wildflower. I wasn’t the only one to enjoy its beauty—I was but one of many, including the Good Lord up above, the angels, and all the other birds and bees flying about.

Suddenly I didn’t feel like such a lone wildflower living out in the wilderness. The Spirit spoke to me and said that I am never alone, but that God Himself always makes plans to visit me and deposit within me bits of Himself, where they can stay forever, producing His life. Then, as I am filled with Him, I can be like the bumblebee and spread the beauty of His love to other flowers (people) I come in contact with.

May we all decide now to be like industrious little bumblebees, pollinating with His life all the wildflowers and cultivated flowers with whom the LORD allows us to interact.  We do this by sharing His light; by walking in His light. We do this by not reacting badly, even when others do so. We do this when we shine with His glory because we have been swimming in it ourselves, and it just exudes out of us effortlessly.

What wonderful details and symmetry God has placed on our little blue planet!

So today, praise Him, especially if you identify with being a lone little wildflower living out in the wilderness because…

He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10

 

In the Morning We Flourish…

 

The day lilies in my yard astonish me with their beauty—their delicacy and rich colors shout to my spirit of the vibrant imagination and creativity of God.  Aptly known by the scientific name, Hemerocallis, which comes from the Greek words for “day” and “beautiful,” they bloom one morning and have wilted by the next; great illustrations of God’s truth about the brevity of life.

He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.  Job 14:2

O Lord, what is man who you regard him, or the son of man who you think of him?  Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.  Psalm 144:3-4

In the morning of our lives we flourish, blossoming out to become all that God created us to be; growing from helpless infants into accomplished adults, developing careers, raising families, reaching for our dreams.

But it doesn’t last long.  Soon, a look in the mirror reminds us that youth is fading and we may become desperate to hold onto it—turning to diet, exercise and Botox to ward off the inevitable.  And yet, time marches forward, and suddenly we have become parents, then grandparents, then great-grandparents; and we wonder how it happened so fast.

As I ponder the scope of my years, God puts it in perspective for me.  My life isn’t really about the brief time that I am confined to this body—it is about preparing for the eternity I will spend with Him—this is just my warm-up for forever.  So why should I lament the trials I go through now since He has made it plain that they are meant to strengthen me?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James 1:2-4

Watching the Summer Olympics, I realized that I’ve never heard an Olympian complain about the rigors of training—each one gladly pays the necessary price to compete in their games.  And so I too will persevere, remembering Paul’s words that,

Henceforth 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 4:8

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

 

Seek Him First

(This is an except from “I’m Still Standing,” a series of essays based on my journals during my encounter with breast cancer.)

Who would have thought so many would turn out to hear what this nondescript young man had to say?  What was it that stirred up so much interest—even among those who were sick and tired of hearing any discussion regarding politics or religion; or among those politically-correct individuals who sought to avoid controversy of any kind, preferring their “live and let live” philosophy that rejected any interference or judgment by others?  It certainly wasn’t his appearance.  He looked like any other 30-something guy; casually dressed in a way that didn’t make any sort of statement; and he didn’t have those movie-star-good-looks that the tabloids loved.  But there was something different about him.  Was it the humorous gleam in his eye?  Or the intriguing way he spoke in what seemed to be riddles?  Was it the way he seemed to be speaking directly to you when you were standing way in the back of a crowd?  No one seemed to be able to put a finger on it, but there was a certain charisma in his manner that divided people—they either loved him or hated him.  He was considered a dangerous terrorist who wanted to bring down the government to some, and a peace-loving pacifist to others.  So here they were—common everyday working people, stay-at-home-moms with their kids, reporters, clergy, politicians, celebrities and unknown businessmen—all gathered around and hanging on every word he spoke, just trying to figure him out.

He had a lot to say that day; touching on legal issues, personal accountability, lifestyles, and even the meaning of life.  Amazingly, the crowd remained quiet.  He was such a captivating speaker that they were literally speechless.  Then his manner seemed to change—for a moment he seemed genuinely puzzled as a new thought occurred to him.  “Why do you worry so much about things that really aren’t all that important?” he asked.  “You shouldn’t be so obsessed with your jobs, your finances, with how you’re going to afford to buy a house, with the cost of that new outfit or car or vacation, or even with where your next meal is coming from.  All you really need is faith in God because he knows what you need even before you do.  All you really have to do is look to him first and everything else in your life will fall into place.”  Oh boy—he’d done it now—if the crowd was just divided before it was polarized now.  Yet they remained quiet, almost mesmerized, as he continued speaking, with each person forming his own opinion of just who this guy was, and just how relevant were the things he had to say.

Such could be the scene should Jesus preach what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount in a public forum today.  And the simple truth he set down originally is as valid now as it was then, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)

It’s so simple we miss it—no matter that it’s written over and over in God’s Word—we still miss it.  “Seek him first.”  It means just what it says.  It shouldn’t be a complicated or difficult-to-understand instruction.  After all, the concept of diligently seeking after something is not foreign to us.  If we desire the love and attention of another person we go after it with everything we’ve got—romantic dinners, gifts, doing all of the little things that would please the object of our affection.  Or, if it’s a career we want, we perform and perform and perform to keep the boss happy—late hours, heavy workloads, compromised ethics—we do whatever it takes to get that bigger check or promotion.  We understand these pursuits, but when the Lord says, “Seek me first,” we don’t seem to get it.  We don’t seem to understand we need to pursue him just as we would pursue anyone or anything else that’s important to us.

And what of his admonition not to worry about tomorrow?  After all, worry is such a normal part of life.  It’s so easy to do it.  Who among us doesn’t worry about something?  Aren’t we supposed to worry about our kids, our health, or our finances?  Aren’t we supposed to worry about threatening global issues like poverty or war?

As a teenager, I remember worrying about what would happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis and, a few years later, about Viet Nam.  For my parents it was World War II and the Korean War; for my grandparents, World War I.  And today, the terrorism and doomsday scenarios are worse than ever before, even in fictional accounts.  Have you ever watched 24, or read a Clancy or Ludlum novel?

Jesus is still the solution.  His word remains true—he doesn’t make false promises, and he promised that if we seek him first all of our needs will be supplied.  Therefore, worry should have no place to rest in our lives.

So why is something that sounds so simple so difficult to implement?  I believe it’s largely because Satan knows how to manipulate us, and worry is just another face of fear.  Life is hard, and we routinely face painful and difficult situations and/or decisions.  And when fear wears this disguise it often appears legitimate—sometimes even admirable.  It appears as concern for things that are our responsibility—the financial stability of our family, the well-being of our child, or issues regarding our health.  But when worry appears, fear has done its job.  Fear has turned our attention away from the simplicity of God’s command and focused it on the “what-ifs” of life.

Part of my own struggle to overcome worry is recounted in a journal entry:   How do I re-focus and get rid of worry?  It remains just as Jesus said—I must seek him first.  And, in order to do that, I must give him ownership of all of the things that concern me.  I must ask myself, “What is the worst-case scenario, and if it happened would God still be there for me?”  Yes!  As promised in Romans 8:38-39, nothing can separate me from his love.  So, it comes back around to wanting him more than anything else—it comes back to seeking him first.

But worry is accepted—even expected—as normal behavior, and I’ve been criticized for not being logical when I’ve refused to worry about certain things.  I’ve been accused of being unrealistic, irrational, or impractical.  I’ve been told that “the world just doesn’t work that way” or that I need to “get real.”   Others have tried to put me on a guilt trip for not worrying—surely they’re more well-adjusted than me because they worry about things that are important, and I’m being irresponsible if I refuse to do it too. But the ways of God are not understood by man’s logic, so I must come back to faith—I must trust what he’s said in his Word—I must live outside of worry because my God is bigger than any problem I face—he’s bigger than the cancer, he’s bigger than the chemotherapy, he’s bigger than the radiation.

This, then, is the foundation of my faith—God is real and his Word is true.  Jesus said it—I believe it—I must always seek him first.  My life is his and he is my refuge, my place of rest, my peace, and my hope.  He meets my every need.  What more could I want?