Monday, 27 February 2017

FAITH AND FEAR

How we can overcome fear by having faith

                                                                   
In the account where Jesus calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41), Christ told his disciples, “Let us go across the Sea of Galilee.” So they left the crowd and got into a boat. But Jesus soon fell asleep, probably due to fatigue from preaching to the multitudes.

Soon a tempest arose and the boat was already filling with water. Fearful, the disciples woke Jesus up, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and commanded the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and a great calm ensued.

Jesus asked, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with fear saying, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

The storm was truly great. Though they were experienced fishermen, used to raging wind and waves, they panicked and thought they would perish. Perhaps, they figured that their Master was unaware or unconcerned when the storm struck.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake. It is prone to sudden violent storms that die down as quickly as they start. The reason for this is that a pass in the mountains west of the lake forms a funnel for winds blowing in from the Mediterranean. Many fishermen over the centuries have to contend with its idiosyncrasy.

Jesus displayed His power over the forces of nature in the physical storm. Think about the other storms in life that cause anxiety and worry—financial loss, terminal disease or bereavement. Do we believe that Christ, the Prince of Peace, can offer comfort when we face such storms?

• “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

• “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

•If we would commit our worries to Him and call upon Him, He would give us the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6–7).

It may seem Jesus was hard on the disciples when He reminded them to have faith. But is it so? At the outset, Jesus had already told them that they were to cross the lake. If the Master had already determined the course and destination and stayed with them on the boat, would they not arrive safely on the other side of the lake? Why did they doubt?

Elsewhere, when the disciples failed to deliver the demoniac, Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you” (Mark 9:19a)?

But let’s not fault the early disciples. Many believers today are also weak in faith. Indeed, Jesus taught in the Parable of the Widow and the Wicked Judge that genuine faith will be rare in the end times (Luke 18:8b).

                                                                       
When faith is weak and we focus on the circumstances, we will be overwhelmed by fear. In the case of the disciples, they focused on the storm. http://bit.ly/1j0Cr5i

Conversely, when we look to God and cling on to His word by faith, we will not be overcome by fear. In the case of the disciples, Jesus’ word to them was that they would cross the lake.

Faith and fear are like oil and water. They do not happily coexist. We cannot be controlled by fear when we have faith and vice versa.

Faith is the opposite of fear. When we have faith, we may have some niggling fear but we do not allow it (fear) to control us—whether it paralyses or causes panic, like the disciples caught in the storm.

And there is no way we can please God without faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Do we believe in God’s amazing power? Jesus not only demonstrated his supernatural ability over the elements. Once He arrived on the other side of the lake, He delivered from bondage a demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs. Later, he continued to minister by healing the woman with the issue of blood and raising a little girl from the dead.

The fact that Jesus is in the boat reminds us of God’s presence with us in life’s journey. This should reassure us that, no matter what crisis or trial hits us, we will reach our destination and fulfil His calling for our lives.

         
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121:1-2)

"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)

Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
(Psalm 46: 10)

"Fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
(Isaiah 41:10)

One of the clear indications of faith is that we remain still, unperturbed amid crisis, focusing on God’s promise that He will deliver us through it all. “If you come back to me you will be saved. Only by remaining calm and trusting in me can you be strong” (Isaiah 30:15).

When crisis strikes, do we remain still and calm, clinging on to God, having faith in His promises? Or are we overcome by fear?

Do not fear, only believe (Mark 5:36). If Christ can calm the tempest, He can also calm the various storms in our lives.  

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Thursday, 9 February 2017

CHRIST: PRINCE OF PEACE VS GREAT DIVIDER

Did Christ come to bring peace or division? Though Jesus is the Prince of Peace, He is also the Great Divider. 

                                                                
The chief purpose of Christ’s coming is clear. He came to die on the cross for man’s sin so that anyone who believes in Him is forgiven and seen as righteous in God’s eyes. Sin causes man to be separated from God’s favour and presence. Through Christ, this broken relationship between God and man is restored.

By faith in the saving virtue of Christ’s blood, man gains forgiveness of his sins, gets reconciled with God and enjoys peace with Him (Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8). Thus, one of the titles of Christ is Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Christ is also the embodiment of peace in that He brings comfort and solace to troubled souls.
  • “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

  • “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

  • In Mark 4:39, when a storm struck the boat of the terrified disciples, Christ rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace! Be still!  Besides physical storms, He helps us go through various storms in life such as financial loss, terminal disease or bereavement.

  • If we would commit our worries to Him and call upon Him, He would give us the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6–7).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught that peace and harmony should prevail in our relationships. In short, He is an advocate of peace. We should try to live peaceably with all men as far as possible without compromising our values. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Writing to the Gentiles, Paul taught that Christ is our peace in that He unites both Jews and the Gentiles through His atoning sacrifice at the cross. “For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

Now, Gentiles may enjoy God’s blessings like God’s favoured nation. “Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham” (Galatians 3:14 a).

Though Jesus came to bring peace to mankind, the Bible also presents a contrasting picture of Christ as the Great Divider—a concept less well understood and hardly preached.

                                            
But if we desire to truly embrace the whole counsel found in God’s Word, we cannot merely settle for the half-truth—Christ is synonymous with peace alone. He also came to divide. 

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

From the beginning, God has been a great divider. He divided light from darkness and created the space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens (Genesis 1:4,7).

In history and world affairs, Christ is the Great Divider. Events either happen before Christ’s birth (BC) or after His birth (AD).

Though God offers the gift of eternal life to all (John 3:16-17), only those who believe in Christ are saved from judgment in the hereafter (John 3: 18).
  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

  • “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

Why does man reject the terms of salvation laid down by God? Because man refuses to give up on evil as it is so attractive. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

Thus, man is divided into two categories according to their faith and allegiance to Christ. And everyone has to make this most important choice in life—whether to believe in Christ or not. If by default one refuses to choose, one automatically falls under the second category.

Notice that obedience is necessary when we profess faith in Christ. We cannot say we have faith but refuse to obey God. Faith and obedience come in a single package. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

Christ also changes the way we see relationshipsTraditionally, people are subdivided according to family units. But since Christ’s coming, people have been divided into two groups—those who trust and obey Him, and those who do not. 

One day, Jesus was speaking His disciples when someone mentioned that His mother and brothers were outside, asking whether they might speak to Him (Matthew 12:46). Typically, we would think that Christ would take time off to meet his family members. However, on this occasion, Jesus did not follow social norms. But He was not being disrespectful to His earthly family. He did provide for his mother’s security as He hung on the cross.

Instead of spending time with His mother and brothers, He asks a rhetorical question: “Who is My mother and who are My brothers (Matthew 12:48)”? He was not referring to His biological mother or brothers, who were really His half-brothers since they shared the same mother.

Stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and brothers” (Matthew 12:49)! He is emphasising the fact that His “spiritual” mother and brothers are those who do what He commands—do the will of God (Matthew 12:50).

We may come from a Christian family but we cannot claim to be saved based on the fact our parents are believers. Everyone has to be personally accountable to God. Christ is the Great Divider, who separates us according to our faith and allegiance to Him, not according to our bloodline.

Some may ask, How about the following verse? "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household" (Acts 16:31).

The offer of salvation was made to the jailer and his family. His family had a most blessed opportunity to be saved. Yet, each family member had to believe in Christ, not just tap into the jailer’s faith. As they say, God has children but not grandchildren. Each one has to be individually accountable to God.

When Christ returns, He will separate the sheep from the goats. In this final judgment, Christ is looking for acts of mercy—how we live our lives.  The former represent true believers whereas the latter include pre-believers and those who profess to believe in Christ but do not live out their faith (Matthew 25: 31-46).

Christ, the Great Divider, also known as the ultimate Judge (1 Corinthians 4:4-5), will reward the righteous (sheep) with eternal life but the rest (goats) will receive eternal punishment (Matthew 25: 46).

To recapitulate, did Christ come to give peace or division? Christ is both the Prince of Peace and the Great Divider.

On one hand, Christ came to reconcile man to God and grant us peace with God. He also grants us peace and comfort in our trials and tribulations.

On the other hand, Christ also came to separate man into two groups: Those who believe in Him and those who do not; those who do His will and those who do not; those who are for Him and those who are against Him. 

There is no neutral position. None can be fence sitters. Jesus says that neutrality towards him is really opposition to Him. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

Every man is essentially a free agent capable of making moral choices once we attain the age of accountability. The choice is entirely left to us. 

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