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Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

In Like a Flood: How to Overcome the Onslaught of Evil in Our World

In Bible, choices, faith, fear, God, Jesus, prayer, Scripture, terror on September 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

The Boston Marathon bombing poses searching questions for counter-terrorism agencies across the world. Photograph: David L Ryan/AP

When I was a child, the nightly news seemed like a foreign movie. It seemed that everything evil happened on the other side of the planet, far from our suburban home.

When we went to church and heard the Holy Scriptures, sometimes one of those news stories would surface in the sermon and the pastor would use it as an example that God was seriously going to punish those who did evil—but not here in the United States. At least that’s how I interpreted the sermon. After all, we’re all safe here in the good ol’ US of A, right? Sure, we had our crime as any country does, but generally, my view of America was that we are the peacemakers, the humanitarians—the civilized.

As Christians, we are called to spread the good news of Jesus Christ across the globe, but the uncivilized, dangerous and evil people were handled by missionaries. These were people specifically called by God to leave the comfort of their American home, travel to a jungle and tell the natives they need Jesus.  At home, we would dutifully pray the Lord of the Harvest to send workers to the fields to gather in the lost souls as Jesus told us too—but secretly we’d pray: please, Lord, don’t send me!

With the truly sacrificial duties left to the missionaries, we could focus on gossiping and judging each other; arguing about what color the carpeting should be in the new sanctuary and snubbing those who dared to enter our place of worship unkempt. After all, did God not say we must be holy and separate from the world?

Now our children kill other children for fun. Our teens set off bombs in our streets. Our junior high boys stock up ammo in their room and bring it to school so they can shoot as many people as possible.

How did this happen on our soil? The talking heads have endless theories and solutions, and some of it may indeed help, but those who call Jesus their Lord and Savior can no longer play church. Evil is here, in our homes, our schools, our churches and streets. Evil has come in like a flood and we will quickly drown in it if we don’t pay attention and get on our knees. We can no longer pretend that the bad stuff happens off shore. We can no longer just put a dollar in a church envelope as the offering plate passes by and smugly feel good that we’ve blessed someone somewhere.

The ancient book of Isaiah, Chapter 59, practically describes our country word-for-word. Life is bleak and overwhelmingly hopeless and our own sins have brought dark consequences upon us. Justice flees from us; peace eludes us and shedding blood is a sport. What can good people do? We try to live good lives and we give our time and money to help others, so what do we do about all this evil in our beloved country? Many snipe at the government, others snipe at the school system, the justice system, the lack of two parents in the home, etc., etc. Yes, all these are factors in our dilemma, but not one of them alone released this flood of evil into our streets.

In fact, none of the solutions we concoct matter in a flood–all that matters is survival, and undoubtedly, a flood of evil is here. It is sweeping away our religious traditions, setting our church buildings on fire and driving us into corners of fear and hopelessness.

Is there no answer?

In verse 19 of Isaiah 59, the Lord proclaims that, “When the enemy comes in like a flood,
The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

Though this chapter is written to Israel, God is the same everywhere, and He will not allow evil to destroy those who love Him. Interestingly, the west is mentioned in the first part of the verse:

“So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

God will save us, America, but we must fear only Him. We must call upon Him with repentant hearts and pure motives. This flood of evil rushing over our precious land, threatening to devour our families will not prevail if we get on our knees now and call out to the only One Who is mighty to save!

The church was never meant to be a building for good people to gather and revel in their goodness while everyone else gets what they get. The church is here to represent the unconditional love of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who loved us so much He chose to pay the penalty of our sin so we could be delivered from evil.

What will you choose? Will you drown in the flood of evil, or will you embrace the standard that God raises against it and look to Him for your salvation?

~ CCS

How to Know God

Photograph: David L Ryan/AP “The Boston Marathon bombing poses searching questions for counter-terrorism agencies across the world.”

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 10

In choices, divorce, fear, fiction, love, marriage, relationships, single on October 4, 2011 at 12:02 am

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel is absorbed in Mrs. Stone’s book of poetry amidst a restless sea of defendants and plaintiffs, all waiting for their day in court. It’s 9:45 AM.

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When lies are love and love is a lie

When truth is pain one can’t deny

How does a heart fulfill its vow

When fear refuses to allow

The lie to live within its walls

Or let grace heal us when it calls

“Rachel?” My attorney sits down next to me as if to wake me from a deep sleep; his voice sounds distant and muffled. I look at him and can see in his eyes that I have changed.

“Rachel, they’ve cancelled our hearing and they can’t give us a reschedule date so I’ll call you, okay?”

I nod my head, unconnected from the news that my dissolution was again delayed. Steve had still not arrived and for some odd reason that bothered me, not in a disgust sort of way but more like a longing—like I wished he were there.

“Are you okay?” Jeff’s face was closer now, his look tense.

“Yeah—yes, I’m okay.”

“I don’t believe you,” he said, standing up and straightening his tie. “Let’s stop by Sully’s for a drink, my treat.”

Normally, I would have relished such an offer—especially from him—but this wasn’t an offer; he sensed something had changed in me and it unsettled him. Something had changed, but neither of us knew what it was.

“No thanks,” I said as I stuffed Mrs. Stone’s journal in my briefcase. “I need to get back to work. There are some issues that need my attention and a pile on my desk that won’t go away unless I show up …”

“You dodging,” he interjected. “What’s going on Rachel?”

We board the elevator with another attorney and client pair, orbiting some crucial strategy for their case and I clam up. The lines from that last poem have me paralyzed. I wrestle under its tethers—its voice screaming at my soul in a faint whisper: When fear refuses to allow

My mind butts into the conversation and attempts to apply logic: Is that what is wrong with me? Did I drive Steve away because I was afraid his love for me was a lie? Have I not extended years of grace to him already? When is it time to move on?

“Rachel, I insist, let me buy you a drink, we can take my car,” Jeff takes me by the elbow and escorts me off the elevator. I’m in such a trance I don’t resist and now we’re in his Jaguar heading to Sully’s.

“No,” I say.

“No? No what?” Jeff swings into a space in the parking deck and puts the car in park.

“No, I can’t be here—with you—I can’t do this.”

He laughs, “It’s a drink, Rachel, not a date. C’mon.” I don’t move and he lets a few seconds pass to see if my decision wavers. It doesn’t. He starts his car back up and pulls onto Main Street. Nothing more is said between us and by 10:10 AM I’m back in the parking lot at the Afterglow Journey Center. I don’t look back as Jeff pulls away; I sit on the bench outside the front door, numb and captive to words I’ve never heard. They are foreign and faint, yet strong and powerful—and I’m listening.

To be continued….

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Read from the beginning…

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 7

In choices, death, divorce, fear, fiction, help, judging, love, marriage, obedience, relationships on October 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm

A Novelette

 by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Mrs. Stone’s story of the late Russell Stone hit a nerve in Rachel. It is 8:30 AM.

The anger rising in me was shocking. I wanted to run like villagers do when the volcano they live by day-in-and-day out starts rumbling. Mrs. Stone could see the eruption forming on my face. Still, she calmly continued.

“People judge these unlived lives as actors, manipulators or lazy bums, having no idea that they are starving for an ounce of acceptance and love in any form. They remain children in their mind with no definition for what drives them or what was stolen from them; they just know they are different from everyone else.”

I felt punched in the stomach and filled with shame. I held her gaze so she couldn’t see that I am one of those judges; that I am only an hour away from dumping such a soul.

“But why did you marry him, knowing he could never be a real husband to you?” I asked. She took in a deep breath; a strange peace engulfed me as she exhaled, something I still can’t explain, though I’ve rolled it over and over in my mind ever since.

“I didn’t know all this when I married him. He seemed as normal as any man,” said Mrs. Stone through tears. “At first I felt deceived, but to honor my vows, I had to love him unconditionally as I am loved by my Creator; that is only fair, don’t you think?”

I shrugged, non-committed. I wasn’t a religious person, but I had to agree that if the Creator loves me unconditionally, I should give my fellow man the same courtesy. I mean, that made sense, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a moral, good, considerate person. I obey the law and all, but her take on it seemed unrealistic.

“But how could you play along with it all? It doesn’t seem fair to you,” I said, my voice now pleading, my mind oblivious to the clock.

“Over time I learned that his feigned normalcy was more than just an act—it was a desperate cry for help,” she said. “I knew that my love for Russell had to be bigger than me. It had to reach beyond my romantic dreams, beyond my rights as a woman, as a wife. I had to love him more than he could ever love me.”

I choked. Shaking my head I pushed all these super woman ideals as far away from me as I could. She had no idea that Steve and Mr. Stone were one and the same and I wasn’t about to tell her. I needed to extricate myself from the Stone’s upside-down world and focus on my court date. I glanced up at the clock. It’s 8:40 AM.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Stone. With all due respect, I have a 9AM meeting I can’t miss. Please forgive me for rushing off like this. The staff will help you with the paperwork we need you to complete before Mr. Stone’s burial. I will call you later today.”

Mrs. Stone smiled serenely and looked down at the journal in her hands. My hand was on the door handle when she called my name. I turned around.

“Please take this and read it before you go to court.”

I gave her a sideways look as I took the journal from her trembling hand. How did she know my ‘meeting’ was in court?

To be continued….

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Read from the beginning…

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 5

In death, divorce, fear, fiction, love, memorial on October 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

At 8 AM, Rachel ushers Mrs. Stone into the Afterglow Room where her staff laid the body of Russell Stone. Candlelight cast a reverent halo around the deceased; soft, ethereal music welcomed the grieving widow. The scene changed quickly.

I’m still in shock. How can I explain this? We walked into the room. Mrs. Stone stood right beside me and stared at her husband’s body. Now understand that at this point, most widows gasp, choke on their tears and convulse as a fountain of emotion begins to erupt. They walk or run to the body. Some will kneel and gently caress the corpse’s cold hand, pat it and whisper loving words. Most spend a few moments of private good-bye, then express their gratitude for our respectful treatment of their loved one’s remains and leave.

Not Mrs. Stone. She laughed! That woman stood there and laughed! But it wasn’t a funny, ha, ha, type of laugh. It was maniacal. It was borderline evil. It was extremely bizarre; goose bumps scurried over my skin. She lifted her arm and stretched it out like a sword; it was fully extended all the way to the tip of her accusing index finger.

“You lost!” she screamed. “You lost!” Her laugh deepened into a sneering mock. “You stole my life and now I am free and you can never, ever, ever steal from me again!”

I grabbed her arm and tried to push it down, thinking she was out of control. “Mrs. Stone, why don’t we go into another room?” I whispered. I thought I would just usher her out of the room, give her a glass of water and bring her back into her right mind, but her arm was as hard as steel.

“You liar!” She shrieked, still pointing her sword at poor Mr. Stone’s body. “You thought I didn’t know your game, didn’t you! Oh, but I did, the whole time. And now you lose.”

“Mrs. Stone, please,” I insisted, “Let’s go sit down in the other room.” She lowered her arm and I thought she was going to turn and follow me when I heard—no, I felt a swish. I jumped at it; the hairs on my neck stood at attention.

Mrs. Stone was lying on top of Mr. Stone’s body, kissing it, caressing it! It was morbid, disgusting!

I freaked.

I ran from the room and in no particular direction. I was nauseous. I couldn’t accept the sight of that woman getting passionate with her husband’s corpse. When I left the bathroom, I realized I was in Mr. Stone’s former room on Angie’s unit. I don’t know how long I was there or why.

I collapsed on a chair, my heart racing, mind spinning. I don’t really recall much about that moment except the leather journal on his nightstand. It was open, Mrs. Stone’s pen, uncapped, lay across its pages.

What drew me to it is still unclear, but the poem appeared penned just moments before I arrived, as I smeared a stroke with my thumb as I lifted it off the table. Its lines capture and confuse me; its mystery clouds my mind and I soon forgot about my nine o’clock court date.

To be continued…

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Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 4

In death, divorce, fear, fiction, healing, marriage, office, relationships, stress on May 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

A Novelette

By Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel is on the hunt to find out who called Mrs. Stone. Somehow, Mrs. Stone had learned of her husband’s death before Rachel called, which normally wouldn’t be an issue, but in the case of the Stone’s, it is far more than an issue.

My anger rose to another level by the time I reached the first floor. I determined that whoever made that call will feel its full force.

“Hi Ms. Cox, is everything okay?” Tina, our facility receptionist, popped out of her chair at the sound of my heels grinding across the lobby’s ceramic tile.

“No, Tina, it is not,” I shot back as I marched past her desk toward Mr. Stone’s nursing unit. Angie would be my first victim. I heard Tina pick-up her phone as I rounded the corner, undoubtedly to warn the unit that I was on my way.

I spotted Angie on the phone when I approached the unit desk and knew by her stance that she had in fact been alerted.

“Hi Rachel,” she said coolly as she set the phone back on the hook. “Everything okay?”

“Who called Mrs. Stone?”

“No one here called her. Kevin said you would,” she answered. For some reason, I believed her.

“I did,” I snapped, “but she already knew. Now, how do you suppose she knew if I’m the only one who called her?” I didn’t wait for an answer. I swallowed my rage and decided it could simmer while I focused on my own crisis. I checked my watch, 7:45 AM. Angie knew me well enough to know that this discussion was so not over and quickly caught up with me.

“Rachel, I’m sorry, I know you think I hate the Stones, but I am telling you the truth, I didn’t call her!”

“I believe you, Angie” I told her, but held my pace. The Stone saga had seeped too far into my mind and I no longer cared. “Just get back to your shift.”  Angie stopped and stood in the hall. No telling what was going through her mind, and I didn’t care about that either. I had a death report to fill out and file before I left for the courthouse; the rest could wait.

Tina picked up the phone as I appeared in the lobby and pretended to have a legitimate conversation; do they think I’m stupid? I know it’s Angie reporting back. I crossed the reception desk and there at the front door was Mrs. Stone.

“Rachel,” she said, her voice merely a breath.

“Mrs. Stone!” I embraced her and offered my condolences for her loss.

“Rachel, may I see him?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I had been so wrapped up in finding out who called her that I had no idea whether or not his body had been placed in our Afterglow room for viewing.

“Honestly, I’m not sure, why don’t you sit here in the lobby and I’ll go find out.”

“May I wait in his room?” she asked

“Oh, of course, yes, please,” I took her by the arm and led her back to her husband’s room. Tina was still on the phone and I made out enough of her statements to know that another warning had been sent to the unit of approaching doom.

Mrs. Stone had a peculiar look on her face, a calmness about her that was puzzling for someone who had just lost their beloved spouse. I brushed it off and left her alone in the late Mr. Stone’s room while I searched for answers on his whereabouts.

At 8 AM, I ushered Mrs. Stone to the Afterglow room where our staff had laid the body of the deceased and lit candles all around the room; soft, ethereal music welcomed the grieving widow. What happened next shocked me so profoundly I still can’t shake the image from my mind.

Read Parts 1 – 3

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 3

In death, fear, fiction, office on May 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel must place a call to the widow of Mr. Stone who passed away late last night, but she can’t pick up the phone. The conversations she had just weeks ago with Mrs. Stone are still churning in her gut. It would be great if she could just extricate herself from their strange story…

The tidbit Mrs. Stone shared with me about spending her entire marriage as a celibate servant to her husband lit the fuse in the bomb that’s been sitting dormant in my heart for the last 15 years. I thought I had dismantled that thing and was angry to find it still threatened my plans to be free from Steve.

Anyway, I couldn’t pick up the phone. All I had to do was inform Mrs. Stone that her husband died this morning at 1:03 a.m., offer condolences and politely pass her along to our after-death staff who handles the final paperwork and subsequent ceremonies.

But I couldn’t, not today. Today I had to focus on the final hearing of the divorce of my marriage that is taking way too long to die. Death never bothered me until I met the Stones. I’ve been in this business for 18 years and death-related things don’t even phase me. It’s not that I don’t feel; I just don’t fall to pieces. Neither do I dwell.

“Kevin, get Angie on the phone.” She will call Mrs. Stone or I’ll fire her for insubordination. This is technically her duty.

“I’m not here—I took the day off!” Kevin barked back through my intercom. On no other day would he do this to me. Angie’s toxic tales of Mr. Stone had infiltrated my whole staff—including my assistant and now there was no one left in the entire facility who would call Mrs. Stone.

“I’m not paying you for this day, Kevin,” I threatened. He didn’t retort, which was also unusual, but I knew he heard me, I could hear him outside my door fiddling with the fax machine. I reached for the envelope; inside was Mr. Stone’s watch and his wedding band. I looked twice to make sure there was nothing else, but it was empty.

I tilted the ring to read the engraving: Till death; strange choice for newlywed.

“Call her.” I jumped at the bark from the intercom and dropped the ring.

“Kevin! Either leave or get Angie on the phone!” It was 7:20 a.m. and as angry as I was at Kevin, I knew he was right, I couldn’t keep stalling. I grabbed the phone and dialed the number he had scribbled on the envelope.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Stone? This is Rachel. I’m sorry to wake you so early.”

“No problem Rachel,” her voice was odd, feathery.

“Russell left us early this morning, just after one. I’m so sorry.”

“I know Rachel, he’s at peace now.”

Her response took me off guard. Had someone else called her? She thanked me and said she would be in soon, declining my offer to come get her. I hung up and stared blankly at my wall of sticky notes, wondering what it was about this man that garnered such devotion. He seemed as normal as the rest of us. I pushed aside my thoughts. Mrs. Stone could be a saint if she wants, but not me. I have no patience for that. My almost Ex needs to grow up and take responsibility, and I need more from a man than he can give. I pressed the intercom.

“Who called Mrs. Stone?”

I popped out of my chair at the silence and yanked the door open. “Kevin! Who – ” He was gone. I marched down the hall and punched the elevator button, seething under my breath. I didn’t need this today.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2



Lost for Good

In believe, fear, focus, God, lessons, love, trust on September 26, 2009 at 11:46 am

They are quite a pair – deep red rubies nestled with shimmering diamond marquises in golden snowflakes.  The earrings were a special gift of love from my Mother, but soon became an object lesson of my Heavenly Father’s love.

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One morning, a few weeks after I received them, I woke to a nagging alarm clock and pushed myself through another morning routine.  Rattling off my mental list – lipstick, heels, lunch, jewelry – I grabbed the new earrings, tossed them into my suit jacket pocket and bolted down the 21 stairs from my apartment atop a restaurant in an old building.

I had managed to put one of the earrings in my left ear as I descended, but when I got out to the gravel parking lot, I reached in for the other and my finger slipped through a hole.

My racing heart smacked into a wall of fear. No way! I did not just lose that earring!  Where is it?! Is it in the gravel? I’ll never find it there!  Maybe on the staircase, I’ll go back…how stupid I am! Why did I put them in my pocket before checking for holes?! I have got to find that earring – I’ll break my Mother’s heart!

Hyperventilating, I ran to my car, stuffed my bags inside and quickly retraced my steps. Like a crazed madwoman I hunted for the missing jewels, scouring all 21 steps three times over. I went all the way back to the beginning of my day, mimicking my every move prior to the realization that my precious earring was gone.  Between screams at myself for being so foolish, I choked out, God! You can see it!  You can see everything! Please show me where it is! You know where it is God, please, please show me!

Every day for the next three months I begged and pleaded with God for its return. I even went so far as to suggest that He dispatch an angel for a swifter delivery!

The summer of ’94 cooled into a painful winter and my prayers became focused on a much bigger loss; another divorce. Crying myself to sleep one night I asked,  God, do You hear my prayers? Do you hear me? Do you care that my life is falling apart again?

His answer arrived unmistakably the next morning as I placed my bags in my car.  There on the freshly vacuumed carpet behind the driver’s seat was the missing earring.  I have never doubted his love and attention again.

I knew my earring had been lost for good.

F Words

In believe, choices, faith, fear, help, Jesus, love, power on September 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

No other letter in the English Alphabet begin words that are so extremely polarizing than “F.”

To be sure, two of those words are embattled to the bitter end of life itself: Fear and Faith.

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More acutely for students is the dreaded grade: F. No other letter can mark a child so deeply.  To receive one means we FAILED.

Such a connection to ‘F’ can drive us down untold paths of perpetual failure, locking us into a prison cell with all sorts of nasty inmates: self deprecation, disconnection, stigma, depression, discouragement, disenfranchisement, etc.

Failure has such potential to kill a human soul that those who are wise to its power can weaken it with another ‘F’ word: Funny!  Truly, laughing at our failures is a God-given weapon to combat this deadly word.

(BTW: the ‘FAIL BLOG’ has the corner on this right now, so if this post is too depressing, go there, laugh your head off, then come back and read the rest of my post!)

This battle has armies on both sides:

Fear – Faith

Fault – Forgiven

Fierce – Funny

Famine – Food

Filth – Finery

Forsaken – Friend

By no means is that an exhaustive list, but you get the point, ‘F Words’ are at war. I won’t even list the most infamous F word since it probably popped in your head when you read my title. So dirty is that particular word, that common reference to it is the ‘F-Bomb.’ How ironic, given the devastation a bomb has in today’s society, both physically and metaphorically.

This war, as I mentioned above, has two captains: Fear and Faith. And, based on my studies of Holy Scripture and years of experience in both of these camps, I have concluded that the front lines of life are fought on the battlefield of the mind by these two foes. But by no means are they an end in themselves.  These captains war for two kings: Love and Hate.

The Bible teaches that Faith and Fear, to a human being, are the means by which we choose Love or Hate.  To live in fear is to vote for hate. To live by faith, is a choice for love.

Since these foes are not tangible on earth, like a gun or a kiss, they are often missed altogether. We search all our lives for answers to life’s questions and dilemmas, and yet, even when such a quest leads us straight to God’s Word our minds still can’t get our head around faith, how it ‘works’ (sorry about the puns, they just happen when I write).

The king of Hate works hard to disguise the simplicity of faith. By no means does he ever want you to get behind the power of faith.  If you do, you would be walking on oceans to feed nations with a loaf of bread. You’d be healing everything you touched and worse, casting him out everywhere you go!

No, wielding the sword of Faith is no easy task. Neither is Fear easy to flush out. So much of our lives are subject to its trickery we rarely view it as an enemy!

But I digress.

Why is Fear vs. Faith my topic today?

Early this morning my husband jostled me from a troubling dream. In it I was surrounded by demons. It was just me and one other person and I was screaming at the top of my lungs at them to ‘leave in the name of Jesus!’ but it wasn’t working. When I ‘came to’ I begged my husband to lay his hand on my mind and to pray God’s peace over me as I was filled with fear.

Only by knowing and understanding the power of faith was I able to know how to defeat the assault of fear in that nightmare.  The Truth set me free from its grip.

Do you want power over fear?

Know your enemy. Dig deep into a Bible as soon as possible. Find out who, what, when, where and why Fear is your enemy.  ‘be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8)

Know your weapon. As a soldier learns to use and respect his weapon before he goes to war, so must we learn how faith works and how to use it against our enemy. Knowledge will dismantle most of Fear’s power, but you must understand that nothing in you has power over fear.  No method, mantra or effort on your part – outside of a choice to walk by faith – will defeat fear.

Get serious. Make no mistake: if Jesus is your Savior, then Fear has power ‘over’ you and Faith has power ‘in’ you.  To allow both, and it is your choice, is sin.  ‘…for whatever is not from faith is sin.’ (Romans 14:23b) You can’t have it both ways.

Choose your F Word: Fear or Faith.

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How do you get more faith?  Read your Bible every day and get grounded in a church that teaches the Word of God without apology.  ‘…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ (Romans 10:17)