Thursday, May 23, 2019

Battles Won in Unlikely Ways

When I was a young adult, we landed in a church whose biggest strength was it's Bible teaching. We not only heard expository sermons, we had many opportunities to participate in Bible Studies through the week. One of the Bible study leaders said he loved to read the Bible because it is book full of love stories, epic battles, and stories in which flawed main characters were redeemed, transformed, and thrust into the middle of God's epic story. Under his teaching I became more interested in the battle stories, especially ones fought and won in unlikely ways. These battles contain valuable lessons for us because it is written on the heart of every believer to be a hero or a heroine fighting battles, whether they be physical, emotional, or spiritual in nature. If you don't believe me, threaten a parent and you will see either a "papa gorilla" or a "mama gorilla" rise up to protect their young ones. Let's look at four different battles fought and won in the most unlikely ways.

First, we have the battle between Israel and Goliath. The Philistines gathered for battle at Socoh, which belonged to Judah and Saul and his men had essentially "drawn a line in the sand" for them. A Philistine named Goliath was a giant of a man who was dressed in heavy armor and carried a huge spear. He taunted the men of Israel twice a day, yelling for them to send someone brave enough to fight him so the winner of the fight with him could settle the battle between Israel and the Philistines. Saul and his men stayed put because they were all afraid. When David brought his brothers food, he  heard Goliath mocking Israel and asked, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" David's brothers thought him presumptuous, but it didn't deter him from volunteering to fight Goliath. David armed with only five smooth stones and a slingshot approached Goliath. Goliath came closer with his shield-bearer in front of him and when he saw how young David was, Goliath cursed him, evoking the names of his false gods. Undaunted, David shouted back, "You come to me with a sword, spear, and javelin; I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. He will deliver you into my hand. I will strike you down and cut off your head and feed your body to the birds so all will know the Lord saves." When Goliath rose to meet David for battle, David slung one stone, striking the Philistine in the forehead. When Goliath fell, David took Goliath's sword and cut off his head. Israel won because David knew who how powerful His God was and trusted Him for the victory.

Second, we have the battle of Joshua at Jericho. God told Joshua he would give the city, its king, and its men of valor to him. As God instructed, Joshua told his men to take up the Ark of the Covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark. He had armed men pass before the Ark and a rear guard follow it. He had the priests continually blow their horns as they marched around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day he had them march around the city seven times and on the seventh time when the priests blew their trumpets, he had the men shout in recognition that the Lord had given them the city. When they shouted, the wall fell flat and they captured the city. I wonder what Joshua's warriors thought when he told them to march instead of waging an attack. I wonder what it would have been like to shout in joy for a victory that hadn't even happened yet. Their actions exposed their faith. Israel won, because they listened to God and did as He instructed.    

Third, we find God instructing Gideon to downsize his army so Israel wouldn't take credit for the upcoming battle. Gideon sent home 22,000 soldiers and kept 10,000. But, God told him that was still too many soldiers. He had Gideon tell the men to go down to the water to get a drink. Most of the soldiers knelt, leaning over to get their water, but 300 of them dipped their hands in and lapped water from them. God told Gideon he would win the battle with these 300 men. God sent Gideon, who tended to be fearful, down to spy on the enemy and he overheard a man telling a dream to one of his comrades. The comrade recognized the dream as a prophecy about Gideon and His army being victorious. When Gideon heard this, his heart was filled with encouragement and he worshiped God. He then returned to his camp and told the army of 300 to get up. He divided them in to three groups and gave them all trumpets and lit torches that they hid in jars. They surrounded the city, blew their trumpets and smashed their jars and cried out, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" The Lord set every man's sword against his comrade. Can you imagine coming against a large army armed only with a trumpets and torches? Can you imagine seeing a battle waged and won in front of you without ever having to raise a sword? Israel won because they believed God and did what He commanded.

Fourth, we have a battle won by Jehoshaphat. His men warned him a huge army was coming to wage war. He was afraid and proclaimed a fast and went to God's House to pray. He said, "O Lord, God of our fathers, aren't You God who rules over all kingdoms and nations? In Your hand are power and might, so that none can withstand You. You drove out the inhabitants of our land and gave it to us as a forever possession. We come to you now because the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom You would not allow us to invade are coming against us. Will you execute judgement on them? We are powerless against them and do not know what to do. But, our eyes are on you!" The Spirit of the Lord said, "Do not be afraid of this great army, for the battle is God's. Go against them tomorrow. You will not need to fight. Just stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord." The next morning Jehoshaphat rose and said, "Hear me, Judah and believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed." He appointed singers who wore holy attire to march before the army. When they began to sing and praise the Lord, the Lord set an ambush against the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir so that they destroyed each other. Israel won because they believed God and stood firm.

I believe God was very intentional in about sharing these accounts with us. Maybe God put the story of David and Goliath in the Bible to remind us not to be like the men in Saul's army who were afraid because of they listened to the enemy who has a very big mouth. The enemy wants us to cower in fear, believing he has more power than he does. If we are  not careful, we can become paralyzed by  fear that is irrationally based on the enemy's lies about God. We can cower in fear as He reminds us of our insecurities, our weaknesses, and our failures. We can hide in shame as we listen to the names he ascribes to us--names that are meant to shame. Maybe God also wants us to understand that one man or one woman who has faith can defeat the enemy and impact a whole community.

Maybe God put the story of Jericho in the Bible to remind us that God uses a lot of different methods to accomplish His plans and that His methods may not make sense to our finite human brains. All we have to do is keep marching, keep trusting, keep obeying, and keep praising God for the victories He will give. Maybe He was also telling us that there is no wall too big, no enemy too powerful, no temptation too strong, and no spirit so evil that He can't defeat when we fully trust Him and are obedient to that which He calls us.

I love the battle of Gideon and his small little band of men. I can relate to Gideon having fear. He thought he was showing God trust when he sent home 22,000 men and kept 10,000 men with him. But God stretched His faith by sending home 9, 700 more men home, leaving Gideon with only 300. That isn't typically done when there is a large army nearby. I love that God understood Gideon's fear and graciously turned that fear into courage by allowing him to hear the prophetic vision to which Gideon responded with faith and worship. Maybe God put this story in the Bible so we would understand that when he calls us into new territories filled with darkness, it doesn't take huge armies to make an impact. It only takes a small band of faithful warriors bearing the light of Jesus and proclaiming God's truth to the nations. We tend to think these battles are ours, but in reality they belong to God who is sovereign over all. The enemy cannot thwart the plans of our great God.

Maybe God put Jehoshaphat's battle in the Bible so we could learn how to face fear by understanding its source is often rooted in a sense of powerlessness. Maybe He put the story in the Bible to remind us that when we are afraid, we can unashamedly bring our fear to Him, declaring who God is and who we are in relationship to Him and by reminding ourselves of His promises. This story show us that we can defeat the enemy through worship. Max Lucado says worship isn't about performing, preparing our hearts for sermons, or making our hearts feel warm and fuzzy, it is spiritual warfare! Worship defeats the enemy by drowning out his lies and melting our fears and doubts by reminding us who God is and what He has done and what He will do in the future. We can become victorious believers, filling our lives, our homes, our places of work, and our churches with worship. We can even be victorious over besetting sin, by facing down the strong temptation with worship, after all  temptation is nothing more than a call to worship.

The Christian life is a war zone and will continue to be so until Jesus returns for His Bride. Because of this, there will be times we experience fear. It isn't a sin as some would have you believe. It is merely an emotion. What we do with that fear will determine whether or not we are victorious. Our battles, like those fought by David, Joshua, Gideon, and Jehoshaphat, will be won in unlikely ways when we live worship-filled lives. For in worship, we find ourselves taking thoughts captive to God's truth, admitting our powerlessness, re focusing our eyes on the all powerful One, and becoming overcomers by the word of our testimonies. The battles are not ours, they are the Lord's and they will be won in the most unlikely ways. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Fear is a Four Letter Word

Several years ago I wrote a book on emotions and in that book wrote a chapter called, "Fear is a Four Letter Word:. In that chapter I shared that my earliest memories of fear are from my preschool years. My dad often watched old westerns with battles between cowboys and Native Americans. At the time we lived in west Texas and we drove from Salt Flats to El Paso to get groceries. I remember being hypervigilant and watching out of the car window afraid Natives would come riding over the mountains to attack us. My mind didn't grasp that the westerns my dad watched reflected a different time period than the one in which we were living. My fear was irrationally based on childish perceptions, not on facts.

Many believers think fear is a sin, but it is a protective, energizing emotion when it is operating in a healthy way. In fact, we can't display courage unless we are experiencing fear. We know fear is built into our emotional makeup from conception as babies jump in the womb in response to loud sudden sounds. God put fear in our emotional make up so it could motivate us to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Fear warns us of potential danger and energizes us by speeding up blood flow so that we can think and act more quickly. It motivates us to flee, fight, or play dead.

Fear can sometimes help to bond people. This occurs when we embrace fears together, especially when we do it for fun's sake. I did this watching Alfred Hitchcock's shows with my family as a young child. We  snuggled close to our parents as the show built towards its climax. Sometimes my dad would growl or yell, "BOO!" just before am exciting part. We would scream, jump, and then all laugh. Our family felt close during those times. I also experienced this when I faced my fear of heights, riding rollercoasters with my kids and climbing a rock wall with our youth group. Even though I experienced fear in those situations, I knew I was with people I trusted and we bonded as we talked and joked about our fears, encouraged each other, and then debriefed afterwards. These things provided shared memories and these memories provide points of instant reconnection when one of us says, "Do you remember that time...?"

Because we live in a fallen world, fear can becomes irrational. If this happens, it can paralyze and control us to the point it becomes a stronghold in our lives. Irrational fear, can make us cowardly if we give into it. This occurred in the book of Numbers when the Israelites were to enter the Promise Land. God had instructed Moses to send a man from each tribe to check out the land. Forty days later, the men returned with pomegranates, figs, clusters of grapes so heavy they had to be carried by two men. All agreed they had found the land of "milk and honey" God described. Yet, only two of the twelve believed Israel could take the land with the Lord's help. They had all observed people of large stature living in the land and ten of them felt so intimidated that they refused to take the land, missing many years of blessing. In their fear, they forgot about God's power and His faithfulness to them. Our fear can make us forgetful, toe.

Irrational fear sometimes has a spiritual component to it as Satan is a master deceiver and can make routine battles look unbeatable, everyday trials look insurmountable, and daily temptations look undefeatable. If we buy into his lies, Satan can turn us into cowards, experiencing chronic fear and living mediocre lives. Cowardly fear can come out in the fear of rejection, which keeps us from reaching out to others, leaving us bound by loneliness. It can come out in the fear of failure, which keeps us from taking risks that would help us develop our talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. It can come out in the fear of abandonment, which keeps us focused on self, instead of loving others well. Hence, irrational fears can cause us to miss out on relationships and opportunities in education, jobs, and ministry.

Unhealthy fear has the potential to cause confusion, which increases the fear we are experiencing. We see this in the book of Judges when God instructed Gideon to call 300 men to surround the Midianite camp, carrying trumpets and clay jars hiding lit torches. He told them to surround the camp, blow their trumpets, break their jars to reveal their torches and shout, "A sword for the Lord and Gideon!" This caused sudden fear among the Midianites and, in their subsequent confusion, the Midianites drew swords on each other. Kind of looks like what Satan and his legions do in our churches today, doesn't it? He knows each of our vulnerabilities and insecurities and attacks in a way that causes fear-fueled confusion. This confusion paralyzes us, keeps us stuck, misconstrues reality, stirs up strife, and causes us to attack each other. Every time I have experienced conflict in the church, there was a great amount of confusion concerning it and at the root of the conflicts was some sort of fear.

When fear becomes a stronghold, it draws our focus away from God and zaps our energy, leaving us with little power to obey. We see this when Saul and the Israelites were facing Goliath. Goliath was a large man with a big mouth. He stood on the mountainside taunting Saul and his army. God had told Israel He would defeat Goliath on their behalf, but they became so afraid that no one took action. Only young David believed God and had the courage to face down the giant. Sadly, Saul's fears became more irrational as time went on. He began to fear his faithful servant, David, tried to kill him and ultimately his fear led him to commit suicide. His fear had become an idol, one that he spent much of his life trying to appease, to no avail. Fear ruled his heart and drove him to carry out ugly, ungodly actions.

In his book, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear, Ken Nichols pointed out that there are 366 "fear not's" in the Bible. Contrary to what many believe, these were not given to us to admonish us or to shame us. When God says not to fear, He follows it with sweet reminders of His presence, His faithfulness, and His power. Fear doesn't have to be a four letter word when we realize it gives us opportunities to be courageous and grow in faith. When we call fear sin, it is because we have forgotten the Bible is a book about a relationship between a God and the people He loves. It is not a list of do's and don'ts written from an angry God waiting to zap us. It is written with from a heart filled with love that desires to protect us and our relationship with Him. His telling us not to be afraid is similar to us lovingly telling our children not to be afraid because we are with them, have knowledge they don't have, will protect them, and can identify irrationality behind many of the fears they have. We can be thankful God won't obliterate our fear as it not only helps us stay safe, it is the very thing that drives us to Him.

(Ken Nichols, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear; Wendy J. Mahill, Embracing a Feeling Heart ) 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Blessings that Come with Hardship

I remember the excitement I felt when I first found out I was pregnant. We had tried for over a year to no avail. Then when we went to my mom's for Thanksgiving, she noticed I was exhausted and falling asleep whenever I sat down. She told my sister she thought I was pregnant and my sister called to ask me about it. I didn't think I was, but went to my doctor anyways. He did the blood work and told me he would let me know the results soon. Because we had tried for so long, we were totally blown away when the doctor called to say the test was positive. I was elated and in awe of the life growing inside. I was also overwhelmed because we were preparing to move away from family and friends. I chose to stay home and held my baby a lot, singing to him, reading children's books, and sometimes just chatting with him about life. Once the baby started sleeping more, I realized I had become a more reflective person, pondering both what I read in the Bible and what I heard in sermons.

The first Christmas after our baby was born, I frequently sat across from the Christmas tree, rocking him to sleep, gazing at the lights. I contemplated how differently Mary had found out about her pregnancy. I wondered what it was like for her to be visited by the angel, Gabriel. I wondered what she thought and what she felt when he told her she had found favor with God and would conceive His Son. I wondered how much she comprehended when he told her the baby would be Jesus, the Son of the Most High. I wondered what feelings flooded her soul as she heard God would give her Son the throne of David. And, I wondered if questions ran through her mind when she was told that through Him many would be saved from their sin. I didn't know the answers to all of my questions, but I did know she had quickly embraced what the angel said and understood some of what she was told because she wrote, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call be blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name."

I also reflected on how her birth was markedly different than mine. Mine occurred in a sterile environment, surrounded by my husband, doctor. and nurses. She was alone with Joseph in a sheepfold. I found myself reflecting on the powerful feelings that surged as our son was born and I heard his first cries. I wondered what thoughts ran through her mind and what feelings coursed through her soul as she labored, gave birth, and held the Messiah child for the very first time. I wondered if she, too, had gazed into the eyes of Jesus and counted His fingers and toes like I did when I nursed our son. I knew she, too, had entered a season of reflection, because the Word said she pondered these things in her heart.

When Spring rolled around the first year of our son's life, more thoughts, questions, and fears arose in my reflective heart. As I thought about Jesus and His ministry, I became filled with awe over His powerful teaching, the miracles He performed, the loving way He interacted with hurting people. I was astonished to learn that many of His strong confrontations were aimed at the religious leaders who lead people astray. Yet, as a new mom, my mind often wandered to Mary. Did she fear for Jesus' life? Did she long for Him to walk away from the conflict surrounding Him? Was she ever tempted to go all Mama Bear on those who flung false accusations at her Son like I did a few times? Did she ever feel the need to rush to His defense when she heard the talk surrounding Him and if so, what helped her restrain her tongue? Did she long for Him to let the crowds fiend for themselves and deal with their own hurts and their own sin? Did she struggle with doubt and confusion over the things the Gabriel had told her in light of what was taking place?

In contemplating those things, I sometimes felt uneasy, realizing I could do my best to raise my kids, but there were a lot of things out of my control. There would also come a time when I would no longer be the one protecting my kids from things that go bump in the night, from those who might want to do them harm, from those who would hurl ugly insults at them, from their own mistakes, or from those who would want to lead them away from God's plans for their lives.

As I reflected on the crucifixion of Christ, I was amazed that Mary was standing there gazing at her son, God's Son as He hung on that tree. She was gazing at a face beaten so badly it was not longer recognizable. She was gazing at a Righteous One, whose innocence didn't earn Him freedom. She was gazing at a Prophet who was so bold in His preaching, yet so strangely silent on the cross. She was gazing at a Lamb as the weight of all of our sin was placed on His shoulders. She was gazing at God's Son as He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I wonder how she could bear the breaking of her own heart to stand their watching as the wrath of God for our sin was being poured out on Him. I wonder if she stayed to the end to watch as they took Him down and laid Him to rest. I also wondered what joy flooded her soul as she laid eyes on the Son of Man after He had risen from the grave. How did she make sense of so much sorrow and so much joy to be born in such a short time.

As I think about the role we take in motherhood, I realize for me there was no greater joy and no greater blessing to hear the words, "You are pregnant!" I was blessed to hear them five times and was filled with as much joy the second, third, fourth, and fifth times as I was the first. Mary's story taught me that just as Mary was shown favor by being chosen to be mother of the Son of God, we are chosen to be the mothers of the children God gives us. Her story has also taught me that with that blessing comes the potential for great heartache and great sorrow. To know this is true, all we have to do is to ask the mothers whose babies died before they were birthed, the mothers who birthed beautiful babies with half of their hearts missing, the mothers of children who suffer horribly with cancer and its treatment; the mothers of children laid to rest in coffins smaller than they ever should be, the mothers whose soldiers boarded planes for war zones from which they may never return, the mothers of children who have gone missing, the mothers whose children are lost in drug-filled lifestyles, the mothers whose children have been demoralized by peers, the moms of children who has been assaulted and harmed in ways children shouldn't be, or mothers whose kids struggle hard living in the pain of adult relationships gone awry.

I think there is more to learn about motherhood from Mary. She remained faithful in loving her Son on what had to have been the darkest day of their lives. The events that seemed so hopeless and so bleak were the very events that were needed to accomplish our redemption. Just as Mary could not see everything that was happening from the view she had, we can't see everything happening when we face hardship with our children. Yet, I can't help but believe that maybe her quiet presence helped the Lord in some untold way that day He hung between heaven and earth. Maybe as we come to accept that our blessing, too, will come with hardship and that in the hard God isn't calling us to control it all. That is His job. Maybe He is simply calling us to love big and to choose to stay present just like Mary did. I believe that someday we will more fully understand the hard that came with the blessings God gave us.


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!