Monday, June 29, 2020

Looking for Peace in an Unpeaceful World

It seems like the "new normal" we keep hearing about in commercials is stress-filled days caused by "bad" news of the pandemic, economic struggles, the constant bickering of elected officials who refuse to work together, and violent protests and political unrest that's evolved into people calling for the erasure of our country's history--both the good and the bad. I have noticed that the cry of my heart at the end of every day is for peace. And, the question I ponder is, "How do I sow peace in a world so filled with discord?"

Because my husband spent years doing research on cotton, I have grown fond of faming analogies. So, if peace were a crop we could grow, we would do is secure a field, cultivate the ground by breaking up the soil, add needed nutrients, and form perfect rows in which to plant seeds of peace. I would liken the cultivation process to putting into our hearts and mind God's truth because He is our source of peace, whether that peace is in our relationship with Him or in our relationships with each other.

The next thing we would do is set up a perimeter around our field to guard it. I would like that to 1 Timothy 6:20, "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoid the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." We want to remember God's Word is as true today as it was in the days it was written. We would do well to saturate our minds with it so it becomes a measuring stick by which we measure everything we see and hear. We may need to limit how much news we watch or how often we scroll Facebook, because much of what is on there right now is equivalent to profane, idle babbling, and contradictions to the truth being portrayed as knowledge. If we aren't careful, we can be carried away by the false narratives being so loudly proclaimed.

At times we will need to deal with pests that destroy the peace we are sowing. Imagine if you will, a field full of freshly sown seeds and a flock of crows starts circling overhead and are ready to descend. If we look carefully we can see names of the crows written on them. The first crow that tries to land is Temptation. He wants to draw us into sin because sin can destroy the sense of peace that we have with God. If we aren't careful we can invite this crow in through all kinds of media--inappropriate shows, angry posts to which we want to respond in an ungodly manner, and enticements to visit and revisit the besetting sins we once thought we had conquered. Other crows bear the family name of Fear--Fear of the Future, Fear of Illness, Fear of Rejection, Fear of Change, Fear of the loss of our constitutional rights, and many more. Some of these crows bear the family names of Discouragement, Despair, and Depression. We can deal with these crows by placing a Scare Crow in the middle of the garden. If you haven't already guessed, the Scare Crow is Jesus. The dark forces of the world literally tremble in His presence and we need to let Him be the guard of our lives and our hearts. We want to keep our eyes focused on Him as we do the work of cultivating peace.

Next imagine seedlings popping through the soil. They need to be nurtured with nutrients and water on a consistent basis to be healthy. They need to have the weeds growing near them pulled. The nutrients represent the Word of God, the water the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live lives connected to the Lord, and the weeds represent all that hinders our peace. Young plants are vulnerable to little worms, beetles, and aphids that want to feed on the plants. These pests can do great damage, even destroying crops all together. These pests are the lies--big and small--that the enemy whispers in our ears. These lies left unchecked and unrefuted can cause us to lose focus of the crop we're growing. These lies are designed to keep us bound in shame. They are designed to cause us to doubt our relationship with God. They are designed to cause us to doubt the goodness, the love, the power, or the presence of our God. We deal with these little pests by plucking them off of our plants when we take our thoughts captive to God's Truth, and maintain our focus on the One who is the complete embodiment of truth.

As we tend to our growing peace, we want to remember to take one day at a time. Any farmer can tell you that there are so many things that can go wrong over the course of the life of his crops that one could drive himself crazy with the "what if''s." Matthew 6:34 is a great reminder of this. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things." If a farmer focuses only on today's chores, todays pests, today's weather, and todays problems he'll experience less stress, less turmoil, and less strife in his life and enjoy more peace.

Sowing peace is hard work and we want to dress appropriately to have endurance. This means we must take off old clothes of pride, corruption, deceitfulness, lust, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice, lying, and evil speaking--all of which rob us of peace in our lives and in our relationships. And, through the Holy Spirit we put on the adequate clothing of truth, righteousness, humility, and love. This will enable us to cultivate peace through sacrificial giving, the speaking of truth in a loving ways, kindness, and tenderhearted compassion. And, when discord seeps back into our field and we can fertilize it with repentance and truth spoken lovingly and then shower it with grace and forgiveness.

As I am ending this post, I dawns on me that it really isn't about looking for peace in a world that cannot give it. It is about staying connected to the God of peace who sanctifies me completely so that my spirit, soul, and body are preserved blameless at the coming of Jesus. Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." As I wait for His glorious return, the cry of my heart has evolved into, "Let me be a conduit of Your peace, Lord, to a world that sorely needs you."




Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Breaking Down Walls of Hostility

Hatred first reared its ugly head after the fall, resulting in the murder of Cain. It drove Joseph's brothers to plot his death and then settle for selling him into slavery. It caused the Egyptians to slaughter babies born to Jews. It drove Haman to plot the destruction of Israelites being held captive in Persia. It showed its ugliness in Israel's treatment of Gentiles, the Gentiles’ treatment of Jews, and the treatment of both groups toward the people who were the products of mixed marriages between the two. It was displayed when women were mistreated in marriages and discarded by arrogant husbands who used them and tossed them out like evening garbage. It was displayed in the way the Old Testament society viewed women as second-class citizens. It has shown itself when fathers who desired sons mourned the births of precious daughters. It shows its ugly head in the legal systems that fail to serve justice on behalf of victims. 

Hatred is still growing as we see everyday on the news. Hatred in the form of prejudice has roots running deep in human hearts. Prejudice may be birthed when fear becomes so intolerable that the power of hatred feels safer than the fear it covers. Prejudice may be born in insecure hearts where anxiety is calmed by refocusing it on something external to be angry with. It may be birthed by longing deeply for acceptance, notoriety, supremacy, prestige, and significance when one mistakenly believes hatred can ensure one can get or keep the things longed for. It can be born in pride-filled hearts as people seek to elevates themselves over others. It can be born in hearts deeply wounded by victimization, providing a destructive hot protection that kills the chance of forming loving relationships. It can be born in a heart given over to evil when the conscience has become seared by one hateful choice after another. 

Hatred often takes root when distorted thinking rules hearts. When we exaggerate or minimize the importance of events, experiences, and mistakes, we breed hate. When we employ catastrophic thinking and see only the worst possible outcomes, we may not see valuable life lessons that need to be learned, we may not sow seeds of love that God is asking us to sow, or we may not take the opportunities to be a part of needed changes. Fear caused by catastrophic thinking can breed self-protective, but destructive biases. Making broad sweeping generalizations can spawn  hate-filled viewpoints. For example those abused by a man could begin to hate all men. Those ridiculed by a teacher can begin to hate all teachers. Those were assaulted by someone of another race can begin to despise all people from that race. 

I've been praying the last couple of weeks about what to write in light of what has been happening since George Floyd was killed. There aren't words to describe the grief and the shock of watching the video and the powerful pictures of protestors who laid down on the ground with hands behind their backs for the amount of time George laid there only to have the unity built by the outrage hijacked by extremists instigating riots, murder, looting, and all sorts of lawlessness. We have all had experiences that bias our way of thinking and yet we know Jesus came to abolish hostility. Ephesians 2:14-21 says, For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of the commandments express in ordinances that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in who the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord.

Jesus, a Jew born in the Middle East, broke through all sorts of prejudicial barriers when He came to this earth. He turned over the tables of money changers who were taking advantage of the poor who wanted to offer sacrifices in the temple. He broke through the biases towards marginalized people as He rubbed shoulders with the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the demon possessed, and with a woman who was unclean because of constant bleeding. He broke through the biases in the religious culture by allowing all sorts of people to sit under his teaching--boisterous fishermen vying for positions, to the educated doctor, to the tax collectors. to Lydia the business woman, to the homemakers, to children who never had direct access to God before, and even to the prostitutes that longed for real love. He even gave the gospel to a mixed-raced Samaritan woman and then entrusted her to share it with her town. He was a bridge builder, not a division maker. He bridged the hostility between Jews and the Gentiles (all other races and people groups). 

We would do well to remember prejudice of any kind is driven by the Enemy who wants to convince people that Jesus is something He isn’t and to divide the people to whom He is reaching out. If we don't examine our hearts and acknowledge and change our biases, we are prone to be used by the Enemy to distort the image of God and His love and to stir up the very hostility that Jesus came to destroy. This is serious as God is not a biased God. He makes it clear in his Word that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and neither male or female and we would do well to pattern our attitudes and our actions on this truth.   
One of the things I believe we all have in common is the desire for perfect justice. We hear it in the cries of the protestors. We hear it in the cries of those who lost loved ones to senseless violence. We hear it in the cries of those victimized by sexual predators. We hear it in the cries of those who have been forever impacted by drunk drivers. We hear it in the cries of those who sit through court and see victimizers get off due to technicalities. We hear it in the cries of spouses going through ugly divorces whose judges discounted truth to grant custody to unhealthy, unstable, or dangerous parents. 

But, I believe our desire for perfect justice is often skewed by our own biases. Years ago I asked a pastor why he thought God was so specific in the law. He explained the law was partly put in place to restrain our imperfect, fleshly sense of justice. He pointed out if a person lost their eye in a fight, he wants to destroy someone's whole face. If a person lost a family member, they want to take the killer as well as his family out. Cities of Refuge were set up to protect those who were responsible for accidental killings because of reality. At first I wasn't sure I agreed with the pastor about man's tendency. But, soon after that conversation I was victimized and found myself struggling with strong, graphic thoughts of revenge that scared me. I realized my own sense of justice was warped by both my pain and my fear. I came to realize the way for me to regain internal peace was to speak truth when I could and then to lay my desire for my warped justice at the feet of the Perfect Judge and trust Him to work His will in it. It was a process, but it was freeing and only possible because I knew Jesus death was God's perfect justice carried out on my behalf.      

Right now I just want to cling to the One who came to destroy hostility and who desires His church to be comprised of all nations and of all races--a church bursting at its seems with people reconciled to God, unified in Jesus Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit worshiping together and proclaiming the gospel. We would be wise to examine ourselves for residual biases and Pharisaical judgments that we might possess as individuals and as churches. These things not only destroy peace and divide the body, they keep others from knowing our God. I want to be sure in my passion, that I don't take on the very hatred that God detests. His nature is love and I want my heart and life to reflect Him and His humility. I am thankful His Son was not given to hateful biases, but in an act of supreme humility lay down His life, breaking the barriers of hostility between us and God and leveled the field between all people. 



Monday, June 1, 2020

It Is Personal

Every so often I have thoughts that persistently run through my mind. Sometimes the thoughts are "ANT's," which are "automatic negative thoughts." I take these thoughts captive to the truth of God's word. At other times the persistent thoughts is God prompting me to remember something important. Lately the thought running through my mind is, "It's personal." I am not talking about the cultural climate right now, in which people take every thing personally and get offended and defensive. I am talking about God who knows each of us in a personal way. For someone who once believed God was distant and angry, I find it comforting to be reminded the relationship I have with God is personal.

As I have meditated on this thought, I have realized it has always been personal. It began in the Garden with Adam and Eve. God fashioned  Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his lungs. He knew Adam well enough to know it wasn't good for him to be alone and took one of his ribs and fashioned him a wife. And, when Adam and Eve chose to sin and hide from God, He sought them, calling, "Where are you?" In the face of their disobedience He promised them a Savior and the clothes he fashioned from animal skins foretold of their future Savior's death. This tells us that in the face of sin our God is a God who is in the business of seeking us out.

Then there was Moses who tended his father-in-law's flock. When he was near Mount Horeb the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. Moses became curious as he realized the bush wasn't being consumed. God seeing Moses' curiosity called out to him from the burning bush, "Moses, Moses." He told Moses He had seen His people's oppression and heard their cries and called him to lead His people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Moses resisted, but God persisted, telling him to tell His people that He, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has sent Moses to lead them home. God went before them continually guiding and instructing Moses on how to lead a nation that had been traumatized by years of slavery, mistreatment, and infanticide. He is a personal God who continually takes a personal interest in the suffering of His people.    

Then there was Samuel who ministered to the Lord before a priest named Eli. Eli's sons behavior in the temple was vile and unrestrained and uncorrected by Eli. One night Eli was lying down in his room and Samuel in his when Samuel heard, "Samuel, Samuel!" God had been silent for so long Samuel assumed the voice to be Eli's and ran to see what he needed. Eli said it wasn't him. This happened two more times and on the third time Eli told him if it happened again, to say to the Lord, "Speak Lord, for Your servant hears." And on that fourth time, when Samuel was about to go to sleep he heard his name, "Samuel, Samuel!" Samuel did as Eli instructed him and God spoke prophesy over him and over Eli's household. I love that in the midst of such a sinful environment God called a young man by name not one time but four times, choosing Him to be His prophet. His calling of Samuel tells us that even in the midst of sin in the household of God, our God is still a personal God.

Skipping over a bunch of other stories we find land in the new testament on the story of Zacchaeus--a man with whom most of us are familiar. He was a short Jewish man who lived in Jericho and collected taxes for the Roman government, most likely charging people extra taxes to pad his own pockets. Because of his stature and his job he was not popular among his fellow Jews. Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus and was curious about him when he heard that he was coming. As Jesus arrived Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of him. When Jesus was passing beneath Zacchaeus, He paused, looked up, and then called him by name, "Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus!" Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus' home and ate and fellowshipped with him. Our Jesus not only knew Zacchaeus' name, He knew where he was perched and made himself at home with him. The despised Zacchaeus found the love he craved in Jesus. And, Zacchaeus was changed because it was personal.    
           
Lastly, let's look at a man named Saul who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. As he was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians, a light shone around him and he fell prostrate to the ground, hearing God's voice, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" They conversed and the nonbelieving Saul became the believing Paul who authored much of the New Testament. I love this passage. As a young believer, I took criticism of my faith so personally, but after I became familiar with this story, I realized when someone is criticizing or mocking my faith, it isn't me they are criticizing, it is Jesus and His calling upon their lifes. In the face of the mocking, I can smile, let go of defensiveness and pray the person would realize faith isn't a philosophy to be reckoned with, but an invitation to a deeply personal relationship with God who radically loves them.

I want to remember when I feel unsettled that the same God who called, Adam and Eve, Moses, Samuel, Zacchaeus, and Paul by name is the same God who has called me. It is comforting to know that in the face of failure, He calls my name. It is comforting to know that the God who called Moses and gave his life significance has called me as well. It is comforting to know that at the times I don't recognize His voice, He calls to me again and again. It is comforting that He knows my proximity and all that concerns me, and calls out my name to spend time with me. It is comforting to know when I think I am doing His will and am heading in the wrong, He will call me by name and redirect my path. I want to remember this relationship I have with God--it is personal. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Life Interrupted

I wonder if others are getting as weary of being "stuck at home," waiting for "life" to begin again. When the government first told us to shelter in place, it was to be for two weeks and I thought, "Piece of cake, we can do this." But now it seems like there is no end in sight for my state.  After listening to one of our pastor's sermons this week, I realized that I need to reframe my thinking so I don't become completely discouraged and overly frustrated.

When the shelter-in-place order was given, I had to shut down our support group ministry and have often thought about how much I hate having the important work we do with our ladies interrupted at such a crucial time in the group process. But this pandemic and this sheltering in place orders was not a surprise to our God. I know there are valuable lessons for each of us to learn about our God, about ourselves, and about life in general, if we are willing to learn. I have been thinking about different people in the Bible who went through things that may have been perceived as interruptions to what God was going to bring about in their lives and will share about two of them.

First, we have Joseph. He was highly favored by his father, who gave him a beautiful coat of many colors, designed to signify his favor towards him. Young Joseph then had two dreams, both of which indicated his brothers would bow down to him. He made the mistake of telling his brothers about his dreams and they were jealous and despised him and sold him into slavery. Joseph, the man who believed he would rule over his brothers landed in Egypt, living the life of a slave.

Pharaoh noticed that everything Joseph did was blessed by God and he gave him an important position in his home. Pharaoh's wife started making advances towards Joseph and he refused her advances. She then accused him of rape and he was thrown into person. Joseph's life as a slave--seems to have been interrupted once again.

There Joseph sat, until the chief butler had a dream Joseph was able to interpret. Joseph asked the butler to remember him when he got out of prison, but the butler didn't. It wasn't until Pharaoh had a dream that needed to be interpreted that the butler remembered Joseph. When Joseph interpreted the dream, it became clear there would be a great famine and they had seven years to fill storehouses. Pharaoh was thankful and put Joseph in charge over the land, knowing he would have the wisdom needed to store things for the future.

It was because of Joseph and his work in Egypt that his brothers came to Egypt, seeking food during the drought. There they ended up being under Joseph's leadership and had to rest in his mercy. It was because of the interruption in Joseph's life that the nation of Israel was preserved through the famine. I also believe Joseph learned all sorts of things about God and His grace as he navigated and prepared for the hard, grieved the betrayal of his brothers, and worked through the important issues of forgiveness.

Second, we have King David, who was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king after Saul. This was awkward as Saul was still alive, but David served Saul with integrity waiting for God to fully elevate him to his kingship. After a great military victory, the Israelites praised David so much Saul was consumed by jealousy. Even though David was a faithful servant, who performed music that soothed Saul's tortured soul, Saul turned on him and tried to murder him. David, the anointed king, ended up hiding in a cave. His brothers and father, who were now at risk joined him there. They were soon followed by everyone who was in distress, who was struggling with debt, and who was discontented and David became captain over all 400 men. I bet David had assumed when he became king, he would be in Jerusalem living the good life, not in a cave training a much of malcontents to be soldiers. Yet, in that cave he remained faithful to what God gave him, showed great restraint when he refused to kill Saul as he trusted God bring about his kingship.

I can relate to these men and the interruptions they faced in what they had thought their lives would be like. I thought this year would be different than it is. I hoped we would work with our ladies in our ministry and give them a celebratory sendoff at the end. I thought we would continue attending church every week. I had realized I needed to socialize more and had committed to have more sweet fellowship over coffee or lunches with friends and here I sit. I thought my husband and I would get travel and may be go camping with grandkids. I thought I would get another book done. Right now, maybe that last one has potential if I can keep my focus during this crazy time.

Sometimes, I wish I could talk to Joseph and David, whose lives seem to have been interrupted like mine. I can't, but I can read their thoughts during their struggles in the Word. Joseph who wept so loudly that the whole palace heard him was able to extend grace to his brothers, saying, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." God used that interruption to grow him enough to forgive the impossible and to save Israel. And the Psalms...they are so full of David's thoughts, questions, and painful emotions being countered beautifully by his knowledge of His God and His trust in His sovereignty, power, love, and goodness. With out reading the Psalms we might not know how personable and safe God is to run to. Their words are more powerful when I remember they were not omniscient, they were everyday people like me. I know that Greg Laurie announced that 50,000 people have accepted Christ during this pandemic. On line church during this hard has opened the flood gates, removed blinders, and turned people's hearts to God. In light of these stories I can reframe my thinking from being stuck at home waiting for life to begin again to being in the middle of something great God is doing in and through his Church.

I don't know what all God is doing through this pandemic and sheltering order, but I do know that He is good and that He is the embodiment of perfect love. I am also confident that nothing can stop the work He is doing in and through each of us. So, I daily choose to trust Him as my husband and I seek His wisdom in how to live out these days of life seemingly interrupted. I am thankful that I am a follower of Jesus and that I have prayed more faithfully for those who are sick, those who are struggling with addictions, and for those who are grieving unexpected changes and big losses. I have also taken time to notice and celebrate births, marriages, graduations, and other milestones from afar. I have taken advantage of this time to enjoy sermons from all sorts of speakers and have gained some good perspective of God through this. And I am confident that our God--He is perfectly good even when life is interrupted.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Navigating this Roller Coaster Ride with Grace

The last couple of months have been a roller coaster ride for all of us. When it first started, I experienced overwhelming anxiety and found myself feeling cold and shaky, which evolved into mild anxiety when I hear or read conflicting information. I've experienced deep grief as we closed down support group meetings, as I watched grandchildren abruptly leave school, when I realized I couldn't be more supportive of a dear friend going through lots of hard, when I miss my church, and as I gave up face to face conversations with people I love. I have felt anger when trying to figure out what to believe about this virus, as I observe the insensitivity of some politicians towards those losing jobs and trying to figure out how to pay rent and buy groceries and medications needed. Many of us have experienced fear and rightly so. We're facing a virus we know little about, may not be able to purchase foods or goods we need, fear getting sick, or fear dying alone. We may even fear all of this has been a ruse to strip us of constitutional rights, including the freedom to of corporate worship.

I've experienced several traumas in my life that surfaced fear. As a child, I tried my best to keep a lid on it. It wasn't until I was pregnant with my third child, that fear could no longer be contained. I woke up one night with a stranger standing over me and was so paralyzed with fear I couldn't scream. I finally groaned loud enough to wake up my husband who chased the guy out of our home. Because I had already experienced trauma, the break in caused PTSD and I had flashbacks or woke up screaming believing the man was back. This startled my little guys. When bedtime came, the oldest often said he was afraid the bogeyman was in their room. I watched my husband gently take our little men to their room and look under the beds, in the closets, and in the toybox to prove the bogeyman wasn't there. He then sat down with them, reminding them God kept us safe when the man broke into our home and then pray with them, asking for God's protection over them as they slept.

Because my emotions felt so crazy, I ordered tapes from a tape ministry and listened to well known pastors' sermons on how to manage emotions. Until that point I thought all fear was a sin and a sign that one lacked faith and was shaming myself for experiencing it. One of the pastors pointed out that fear was a common human emotion and it helped us stay safe. He also pointed out that when Moses died the Lord directed Joshua to enter the promise land, telling him not to be afraid but to be strong and courageous because He would be with him and would not leave him or forsake him. Around that time a friend came up to me at church and handed me a piece of paper with a Bible verse on it. She explained she had never experienced someone breaking into her home, but God had laid it on her heart to pray that verse for me every night. When I got home I looked at the verse she had written out and it said, "I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." I committed that verse to memory and went to sleep every night meditating on it, comforted by that fact that my friend was praying the verse over me.

As I processed the verse and the sermon on fear, I began to view God's command to not fear differently. Before I had believed God was always displeased with me when I experienced fear, but when I put the command in its context it seemed like God was speaking to me in the same way my husband spoke to our boys when they were afraid of the bogeyman. Instead of avoiding God in shame when I experienced fear, I began to acknowledge it to Him and then focus on His attributes and His care for me. Several years later I told God I knew He was with me on the night of the beak in and asked Him to give a vision of where He was that night. Immediately I saw Jesus dressed as a soldier, standing at the head of my bed watching over me. When I think of that night I no longer experience fear, I simply see Him standing guard over me.

I pray we will be gracious to those who have been or are still struggling with fear as we navigate this pandemic and the reopening of our country. There is a time to confront fear, but we would be wise to confront it the way the Lord does with reminders of His continual presence and His lavish care. We want to remember some came to this pandemic with unresolved trauma. For those who grew up without enough food to eat, for the ones who have lost loved ones to horrible diseases, for the ones who were abandoned as children, or those who were harmed in someway this pandemic may surface strong fears that need to be honored and patiently worked through so they, too, can continue growing in their ability to trust God in the hard.

I have had to continue to take my thoughts captive to Jesus' truth during this time, reminding myself this pandemic was no surprise to God. For while He was forming me in my mother's womb, these days were already written in His books. I know my God knows my history and isn't angry when I experience fear. He is reminding me He is right here with me. His presence means even on my loneliest days, I am never alone. It means when I am feeling anxious or afraid, He can give me the courage I need to face the day in a way that honors Him. It means when I am weak, He will give me strength to do what needs to be done. It means when I am confused, He will give me the wisdom I need to navigate the hard. It means when I am feeling powerless, He is all powerful over all that pertains to me. It means when everything feels out of my control, He is in fact in control of it all. It means when I am struggling with sin, His perfect righteousness covers it. It means when I am feeling unsettled, He is my perfect peace. Oh, I hope that we would navigate this roller coaster season with His grace.

Isaiah 41:10 brings me great comfort these days:

"Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am you God.
I will strengthen you, 
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."












Monday, April 20, 2020

Anxiety and the Believer

Sunday I watched several different church services on line, all dealing with the topic of anxiety. It was interesting to see how differently they handled the topic. Some handled it with a black-white approach, claiming faith and anxiety can't coexist. Other's handled it in a more gracious approach like Louis Giglio did in his sermon, "It is Okay to Freak Out." (Passion City Online) He first acknowledged the reality of the anxiety we are experiencing as we live during these times and then challenged us to not make anxiety our permanent residence. I like that!

We are anxious because we're facing a virus we don't know much about and the information we are given daily about it is constantly changing. We are anxious because our government has shut down many businesses and asked us to shelter in place to save lives. This has cost people their jobs, paychecks, and insurance that they had through their employees. People are left struggling to figure out how to pay rent, utilities, insurance policies, car payments, medical bills, and provide food for their families. Parents were also thrust into the role of teacher without any preparation while helping little ones grieve the abrupt end of classes confused by the concept of this thing called a pandemic. We are anxious because life changed abruptly and change is hard. We are anxious because store shelves were emptied by people panicking, leaving others trying to figure out how to get what they need.

We are also anxious because we were created to be relational people, but right now relationships don't feel safe. We are left wondering if we could be a carrier who might contaminate someone we love or if our loved one who has just gotten groceries for us has brought home more than just the groceries. We are anxious because we want to hug those we love and to do so could put them or us in danger. And those of us who have found joy and peace through church life, are left wondering just how safe it will be to return to something we have loved and miss, but could expose us to an illness from which we might not recover.

If that isn't enough anxiety to deal with, in America we have this thing called partisan politics. It was originally designed to provide a beautiful system of checks and balances to protect freedom. But lately, it's evolved into something akin to a very bad, dysfunctional marriage. And, we have all become like children standing outside of mom and dad's closed door, listening to them fight because we think knowledge keeps us safer, only to find we are listening to things we don't want to hear--blame being hurled like fiery darts, shaming words being cast to discredit others' points of view, the assassination of the character of people whose beliefs differ, angry questions thrown down that were really harsh judgments in disguise, and the refusal of either side to take ownership for their own part in the struggle. Every person who grew up in a broken home knows exactly what I am talking about. And, those who know realize the anxiety triggered by this politicians isn't just the anxiety of the present, but also the anxiety of the past brokenness never dealt with.

I confess I've been an anxious person most of my life and probably came out of the womb biting my finger nails. I've also experienced many traumas over time and didn't get help for those until later in life. As a believer, I felt guilt and shame over the anxiety I experienced. Oh, sometimes I could align my thinking to Scripture and change an anxious mood to a peaceful one. But, the anxiety I experienced ran deeper in me. I could go to bed in a peaceful state, only to wakeup in the middle of the night chewing my tongue like yesterdays bubble gum or grinding my teeth so hard they cracked. Hard as I tried I couldn't figure out how I was failing to trust God enough for that to happen.

This last year while we were training our support group leaders, a therapist shared some information with us that was so freeing for me and others who had experienced trauma and anxiety. Simply put anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. Ordinarily the experience of anxiety is related to our immediate surroundings. We call that ambient anxiety. On a scale of 0-10, people who haven't experienced a lot of trauma live with anxiety levels that fluctuate between 0-5. So, when they experience an anxiety provoking event as an adult they can go up the anxiety scale and then return to their normal state afterwards. However, those who have experienced ongoing trauma have anxiety that is in the background, subconsciously activated and elevated so that they live in the 5-9 range on the anxiety scale. And, when they experience a new trauma as an adult, they are more highly triggered and don't have as quick and as complete of a recovery from it.

In light of this information, I find sermons that simply equate anxiety with a lack of faith hard to digest, especially when Philippians 4:6 is taken out of context and people are told the Bible commands us not to be anxious. If that is true I wish someone would tell that to my sleeping self. When I read Philippians 4:5-9, verse six doesn't sound like a command to me. It sounds like a loving Father asking us to trust Him. Paul's timely words tell us to rejoice in the Lord as He is ever present. He is present even in this pandemic as we face an unseen enemy, food and goods insecurities, financial loss, and relational fears. It is based on this reminder of God's presence that Paul tells us not to give into anxious thoughts but continually bring them to the Lord in prayer. For me that doesn't mean a simple prayer like "bless us in this pandemic." It means being radically honest with God about what I am experiencing and what I am feeling. It means setting aside the tendency to judge myself harshly and being curious about where the anxiety is coming from. Is it because I am forgetting how big, how good, and how loving my God is? Is it because this current crisis we are facing is scary? Is it because the feelings of this current crisis are bumping into feelings I experienced through past traumas? Is, is it because I am giving ear to the Enemy's lies and not taking my thought's captive to God's truth?  Or, is it because there are areas in my life that my knowledge of God still resides only in my head and not in my heart?

As I confess my anxiety and pray about these things either aloud or in letters written to God, I find myself experiencing something awesome, which I believe is the working out of God's peace taking hold and guarding my heart. I find myself connecting to the reality of God's presence in my life. The  experience of loneliness I felt in dealing with anxiousness dissipates into a feeling of connectedness. I find myself being comforted by the great I Am who is all powerful, all knowing, and sovereign over all that pertain to me and I am overwhelmed with awe. I also find myself being counseled by the Holy Spirit as He lovingly shows me where and how my past and present are colliding and then helps me sort through it and move past it. All of this helps my head knowledge of Him work its way to my heart where it begins to govern my actions and reactions to life. I also find that instead of my anxiety triggering panic, it has begun to "trigger" a desire to turn to Jesus, knowing His ears are turned towards me. In that sense the anxiety has driven me towards Him, not away.

After I have acknowledged the truth of what is going on in me and laid out my concerns to Him, I am more free to follow Paul's instructions to shift my focus from the problems going on to what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and praise worthy, which is Jesus who is the very  embodiment of all these things. I can also look around for those things in the midst of all of this hard. It means identifying those who are performing acts of valor in the midst of this pandemic--from the essential workers in groceries stores to medical personnel putting their lives on the line to care for the sick. I can also focus on spring beauty that is blooming all around me, the miracles of babies still being born, and the art projects my grand kids are creating. I can take the time to commend others for their servant hearts, kind words, or sacrificial acts of giving. As I notice and keep track of these things, I can see how God is still actively working through it all.

My prayer is that we, as believers, will be transparent about our own struggles and gracious with others who admit they feel anxious, understanding that though we are all walking through the same storm, our experiences in the storm can be very different based on our emotional make up, our resilience, our past trauma experiences, our ambient anxiousness, and our willingness to be curious about our own reactions to life. I will close by encouraging you to meditate on Paul's words that were penned after he had endured much suffering that earned him the right to tell us to practice the things we have learned, received, heard, and seen in him.
 
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand, 
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication 
with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, 
if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--
practice these things and the peace of God will be with you.
Philippians 4:5-9      






Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Fear Will Lose its Grip

My earliest memory of fear is kind of funny. When I was three or four years old, my dad watched westerns on TV and in those westerns there were lots of battles between cowboys and Native Americans. At that time we lived in West Texas and drove into El Paso to get groceries and as we drove home at dusk the terrain looked similar to the terrain in the westerns. I often became nervous and hypervigilant as I gazed out the car window, expecting Native Americans to come over the hills on horses to attack us. It was an irrational fear, but I didn't realize the shows were about a different time period in history and we were not in any danger of being attacked.

There were times I embraced fear and faced it for fun's sake. For example, as a child I sometimes got to stay up late and watch scary shows with my parents. As each show built towards it's climax, I found myself  moving closer to one of my parents until it was over. Sometimes my dad growled or grabbed our legs as the tension was mounting, and we all screamed and yelled at him, while we were moving closer to him to feel safer. I loved the closeness I felt as we snuggled to watch those shows. I also loved the memories of those shared experiences as they gave us something common to talk about in later years.

One fear I've never had a desire to face or overcome is my fear of snakes. My first encounter with a snake was when I was riding a bicycle with training wheels on it. I rode down the street, and then when I came back to our house, there was a huge coiled rattlesnake in the road. I stopped just short of it, jumped off the bike and ran to the house. I entered the house and calmly announced the snake in a manner that belied the huge fear pounding in my chest. The fear of snakes grew more when I was a teen and was hiking with my dad. We came upon a loud sound echoing in a canyon. All of a sudden my dad took me firmly by the arm, turning me around as he started walking faster. I had never seen him look that concerned. So, I asked him what the sound was. He told me there apparently was a large den of rattle snakes somewhere in the canyon we were approaching. He explained that the sound we heard was them rattling at the same time and that because of the echo, he couldn't pinpoint where they were and knew it wasn't safe to proceed in that direction. To this day if I see snakes in person, I am frozen with fear and scream.

I 've had other fears that weren't as terrifying, but were just as real and impacted my life in huge ways. I feared my parents would get a divorce long before they did and lived trying to control things out of my control to prevent that. I feared abandonment and developed people pleasing tendencies that made relationships unhealthy. I feared the airplanes that flew overhead during the Cold War years and would plant myself near my parents when I heard them. I struggled with anorexia and spent years fearing food and the number on the scale until it consumed my life. In high school I feared death and refused to sleep more than few hours at a time and lived exhausted through my teen years. As an adult I feared I would not be able to walk again after I suffered a severe break to my ankle and I pushed myself more than was healthy, which increased the arthritis in that joint. I have feared I might lose one of my children to asthma, a ruptured spleen, pancreatitis, celiac disease, or other health issues with which they have struggled. I have feared social situations and speaking engagements to the point I avoided both even though I much wanted to do those things. There were times I have feared being outside in wide open spaces, walking on wet pavement, or feeling strong winds blowing in my face. And, as an abuse survivor I have feared both what I remembered and what I couldn't.

When I wrote, Embracing a Feeling Heart, I  read Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear written by Ken Nichols. He explained that fear is built into our emotional make up from the point of conception and that it was given to us to motivate us to take action when we are not safe. When we perceive danger or potential harm, fear can actually energize us, speeding the blood flow through our bodies, enabling us to think more quickly so we can take action and meet the perceived danger head-on. It can also motivate us to flee or play dead when that would work better. The Bible even tells us that fear can motivate us to seek God and to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. It can even alert us to addictive, self destructive behaviors that are destroying our lives.

Nichols points out that when fear is irrational it can paralyze and control us. This kind of fear most often has a spiritual component to it. Satan, who is a master at deceiving us, feeds us lies that can make routine battles appear gigantic. Because of that Satan can turn us into cowards who live lives  plagued by chronic fear. Or, he can  whisper just enough tidbits of false information to stir just enough fear to cause us to live mediocre lives, requiring very little risk. Satan also likes to stir up confusion which can lead to more fear.

When I was pregnant with our third baby, we had a guy break into our home and as a result I went through a period of time where my life was consumed with irrational fear that hindered my daily life. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't reenter our home after shopping unless my husband was home. I jumped and screamed every time one of my kids touched me unexpectedly. I began to tell myself that I didn't have to be afraid, because the guy was gone and our doors were secure. I also began to memorize Scriptures that had to do with fear. One that I repeated over and over when I fell asleep was Psalm 4:8, "In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety."  While I think it was normal to experience fear with what had happened, the calming of my spirit with the Word bears witness of the spiritual component to the irrational fear I was dealing with.

During this pandemic, we are experiencing fear. It may come in the form of anxiety, panic, or strong fear. It may be covered by denial or anger, but it most likely there lurking under the surface trying to make itself known to us and we would do well to listen to it. For me, it has surfaced some fear of being around others, which I hate but must admit is probably healthy. It has also surfaced an irrational fear of breathing air as I wonder what little viruses are making their way into my lungs. It has also resurfaced a fear that I have always had of dying alone and has surfaced a fear of not being able to provide for ourselves, which has always been important to us.

Sometimes we intensify our emotional states by believing lies that can stir up additional shame. Some of the lies we tend to believe about fear are:
  • Fear is sin
  • Adults shouldn't be afraid
  • "Good" Christians don't experience fear
  •  I can't survive the experience of fear
  • I am fearful and can do nothing about it 
  • If I feel my fear, it will consume me. 

But the truth is:
  • Fear is a God-given emotion that helps us stay safe and make healthy decisions
  • Emotionally healthy adults do experience fear and that is okay, especially in the face of a pandemic where health is at risk, people have to isolate, and many are losing jobs
  • Christians are not exempt from danger and fear is beneficial
  • Irrational fear can be identified and managed with truth
  • We can learn to tolerate fear when we practice sitting with it instead of numbing it or denying its presence
  • We don't have to be a slave to our fears, we can face them, deal with them, get help and support if need be
  • We are capable of doing work when needed to change our fearful mindset 
  • Feeling and acknowledging the experience of fear can keep it from overwhelming us
  • For the believer death has lost its sting and the truth is that the best is yet to come so choosing to focus on one day at a time, praying for God's wisdom, loving well, and trusting God's numbering of our days is truly done in with a heart that perfectly loves can calm our fears.
This pandemic has stirred in many of us a strong fear of weaknesses in our body and/or our health. The fear of becoming extremely ill, incapacitated and on a ventilator, or dying is real. We want to remember at this time, is that focusing solely on those fears can increase stress, which can cause more physical problems. We have the power to choose to focus on things that bring us joy and fill us with peace and a sense of gratitude. We can focus on the truth that God can manifest HIs strength in our weaknesses and choose to focus on things of eternal value. Those of us who are older can accept aging is a normal part of life. Second Corinthians 4:16-18 offers this hope: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 

Let us remember our God isn't isolating from us, His is with us and His ears are turned toward us inviting us to pour out our troubled hearts to Him. Let us continually lift up our president and vice-president in prayer asking God who has all wisdom and power to guide them as they lead us through this ongoing crisis. Let us continually ask God to protect our medical personnel who are continually facing this virus on our behalf, putting their own lives at risk. Let us continually ask our Jehovah Jirah to provide for the needs of those who have lost jobs. Let us continually ask our Abba to comfort those who have lost loved ones to this unseen enemy. Let us continually be asking the Holy Spirit to miraculously heal those alone in the hospital rooms surrounded by equipment and masked people. And let's do spiritual battle with the Enemy who is feeding us with his ugly lies to keep us paralyzed in fear. While we are isolating for protection, let us remember that our God is more powerful than the threat we're facing and let's use this time to focus on Him and His great love. Our church buildings may be empty this Easter, but the Savior--He is still alive and active in us. There is no better time than now to be on our knees crying out for Nations full of lost, hurting, and fearful souls. Prayer has a way of energizing and clarifying what is truly important to us. Prayer cant each us to love well in ways that we haven't even though of yet. Stay safe. Pray continually. Give thanks. Lets remember that fear will lose its grip when we listen to its message and view that message through God's truth. 

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!