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. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Our Eyes are On You

 Matt Vorhees, Senior Pastor of Riverlakes Church posted this blog post on our church Facebook page on Saturday, March 21, 2020. He has graciously given me permission to share his words with you on my blog. I hope his words give you hope during these tough times: 
We are undoubtedly living in unprecedented times in our society, but here's what I love about the Bible. We have so many stories of God's people walking through similar kinds of uncertainty that show us how his people looked to Him.
An especially powerful story is that of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. Here's the setting: "Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, 'A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar' (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord..." - 2 Chron. 20:2-3 
Though the circumstances are different, Jehoshaphat was feeling what a lot of us are feeling right now. A visible horde of enemies was marching against Judah, and they were already in the land, as close as the southern oasis of Engedi. But unlike Jehoshaphat, the horde we're facing is invisible. It's not just out there somewhere, it's here, on our shores and in our community. And it's causing a lot of fear. There's nothing wrong with feeling afraid. At some level, we can't control that. But when those feelings arise, what do we do with them? Where do we go with them? To whom do we turn? Jehoshaphat models what, where and to whom we must take our fears, he "set his face to seek the Lord." But there is something particular in Jehoshaphat's public prayer before the people that I want to draw your attention to: 
"For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” - 2 Chron. 20:12
We are powerless against the spread of COVID-19 and the impact it's going to have. Social distancing, home isolation, testing and treatments are important and will help, but they can only do so much. Many businesses and organizations, including the church are asking how we can continue our work in light of the many restrictions. In a lot of ways, we feel like Jehoshaphat, "we don't know what to do." Again, these are unprecedented times. 
We may not know what to do, but we know who to turn to. "Our eyes are on you." We can follow the Lord into the unknown of the coming weeks and months, trusting that our God is sovereign and that He has good plans for His church. We can be salt and light in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos (Matt. 5:13-16). We may not know what's going to happen, but we know the One who will lead us through it. Jesus defeated the true horde that stood opposed to us: Satan, Sin and Death, so that in the middle of this crisis, we can be sure that He is with us through it all (Psalm 23:4). 
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me."

Saturday, March 21, 2020

These Isolating Times

Isolation has been a great teacher for me. The first time I experienced a long period of isolation was sixteen years ago when I suffered a severe break to my right ankle. I was house bound as I could not drive and was experiencing a great amount of pain that pain meds didn't touch. I had been a very active person, walking daily and serving in a youth ministry that kept me busy for many years. Then all of a sudden I was sitting at home, alone much of the day.

God was gracious in that when my husband picked me up to take me to the hospital, God impressed upon my heart that this season was for a reason. At first I didn't know what God meant by season, but soon found out. As the orthopedic doctor was looking at my quickly expanding ankle I said, "I guess I won't be walking for six weeks." He looked up from my ankle with concern on his face and gently said, "If you do walk, it will probably be a year from now. It is a bad break." I came home and looked around my living room and thought, now what? The first few weeks were spent mostly dealing with pain. My daughter supplied me with funny movies to watch and brought her first born over several times a week so I could just snuggle with him, which helped a lot. I began to learn important lessons about three weeks in to the isolation.

The first lesson I learned was about loneliness. When everyone was at work, I was alone for many hours and began to experience loneliness. At that time I wasn't good about asking for what I needed or wanted, so I didn't reach out, which increased the loneliness I experienced. When I realized what I was experiencing, I picked up Elizabeth Elliot's book on it to see what she had to say. As I read it, I realized what made loneliness hard to bear wasn't the loneliness itself, but what I was telling myself about it. I had come to believe the experience of loneliness was proof I was rejected, defective, or seen as unlovable. However, I learned loneliness is a God-given emotion that serves to remind us we are created in the image of God, which means we are created for connection--connection to God and to each other. When I understood that, the shame I felt over the experienced of loneliness melted away. I realized there were some things I could do to initiate time with friends and family. I had to swallow pride and ask for rides to lunch, appointments, and to attend a class I wanted to take, all of which cut down on the hours I felt alone.

One sweet lady from our church, brought by a meal for us to enjoy and as she was leaving she said, "I can't wait to hear what you learn about God through this time." Her simple words radically changed my perspective. I realized in that moment I didn't want to miss out on anything God might want to teach me. And, He was so gracious. I continuously felt His presence with me for that nine months. My quiet times were rich, my heart full, and my prayer life fulfilling. Then one day I picked up a prayer journal I had kept for counseling. In it were things I had written to God about some of the traumas I had experienced earlier in life. Even though I had shared them with a counselor, I didn't experience a lot of emotion in the writing or the reading of them. I opened the journal and read the letters out loud to God and I felt His love wash over me and I wept, finally able to grieve the things I had been processing in counseling. I realized I had been too busy to fully enter into the healing process, but God used that injury to slow me down to feel and to heal. Looking back, I am so thankful for that experience because I got to experience the truth of God's daily presence in my life. I not only got to experience God as my Abba (daddy), but as both the Wonderful Counselor and Comforter. He lead me to write curriculum during that time that in turn has been used to comfort others as I was comforted.

And now here I sit again isolating because of the Covid 19. At first, it didn't seen like such a big deal, as we are retired and I have been an author for the last 16 years. However, about a week into it after one of the newscasts, I realized how anxious I had become and how much I was missing the freedom to hang out with my family and friends. One of my granddaughter wanted to come while she was off from school and her gym was closed and her parents had to say no because it isn't safe. Our grandkids that live an hour away can't come down and hang this spring break. Even the ones we live close to are becoming more cautious--we might share dinners sometimes, but always have to ask if everyone is fever free and avoid the usual bear hugs. I have a husband, son-in-law, and a grandson who are extroverted sanguines and find isolating really hard and when they run to the store to get out some it increases my anxiety a lot.

So, what is God teaching me this time? First, He is teaching me that love doesn't always look like a warm hug. Sometimes it means shutting down support groups you love to keep everyone safe. Sometimes it looks like a wave instead of a handshake. Sometimes it looks like a text message that contains a funny meme or a funny picture that depicts an inside joke. Sometimes it looks like a Facetime call. It sometimes looks like people standing on individual balconies singing as the sun sets. It sometimes looks like a Zumba teacher blasting music from her porch, leading neighbors in a class as they participate in their own yards. It sometimes looks like parents getting creative in helping children do school work and learn life skills like laundry and cooking. It sometimes looks like an exercise laid out with masking tape and toys and a mom cheering her preschooler for completing it. It sometimes looks like a child standing on a fire place fervently praying his heart out after hearing he may not get to return to school this year. It sometimes looks like preachers preaching to empty auditoriums so we can still hear sermons and worship together. It sometimes looks like a tired president and his staff giving us updates on a daily basis. It sometimes looks like living room concerts being played and cast by all kinds of musicians willing to share their gifts. It sometimes even looks like taking a firm stand with the sanguine in our lives, reminding them they can be a part of the solution or be the problem. It sometimes means being patient with people who are panic buying and hoarding, knowing it may not be selfishness driving them, but fear. I am also finding in the midst of what feels like chaos, God's relentless presence is my stability as well as my peace in the anxiety that keeps bubbling up.

I have come to believe this season of isolation is an opportunity for the church to shine brightly and because most of my communication is in writing I want to be careful of every word I write. Some of the harsh things I have seen online cause me to cringe, because I don't believe they accurately describe the Father's heart. Ez. 18:23 says, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" As believers, we would do well to reflect first on our own lives, the state of our own hearts, and the health of our own relationships before we point fingers at others. We know from the news, that the church needs revival just as much as anyone else in this world. So, I hope we all can speak God's truth with a clear and clean conscious, having taken the logs out of our own eyes first. I hope we speak it in such a loving way that others will be drawn to the very heart of the God who loves them enough to die and bear the wrath of God for sin for them. Let's try to reflect God's character in such away that others want to come near Him.

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!