Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Overwhelming Fear

"For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 
"Fear not, I am the one who helps you.””

Isaiah 41:13

Fear is an interesting emotion in that it can be both rational and irrational. I have several fears I believe are rational and protective. I am terrified of rattle snakes and that fear kept me alive when we lived in an area where there was rattle snakes. I am also afraid of riding in a car with someone who has been drinking, walking alone after dark, and afraid of heights. Okay…as I am writing this I am also realizing that the fears I thought were rational aren’t always rational. My fear of rattle snakes has grown to include all snakes, even those that are harmless. My fear of riding in a car has grown to irrational proportions and I often brake my imaginary break and scream, “STOP!” at my husband. My fear of heights has become irrational after I suffered a broken ankle and a broken knee and have realized that I am not quite as stable on my feet. I have also had irrational fears of the dark and public speaking, but have worked on them some.

I’ve had other fears that were situational. One bout with fear occurred when one of our sons was in an accident and his spleen ruptured. There were no words to describe the fear that I felt when they wheeled him into surgery. I was afraid I wouldn’t see him again and afraid of the pain that would bring. I was afraid of the lowered resistance to infection that he would have without a spleen and afraid of seeing him in so much pain. But I prayed and faced those fears with God and He truly was with me. His presence was huge and looming even though the truth that His sovereignty determined the outcome, which thankfully was positive.

I was also overwhelmed with fear when our granddaughter came thirteen weeks early. I was afraid she wouldn’t make it and got on a plane not knowing if I would get to see her when I got there. I was afraid I would never know what her voice and laughter would sound like. I was afraid I would never have the privilege of seeing what her personality is like. I was afraid I would never know what could make her smile, cry, or jump for joy and I prayed and again experienced God’s overwhelming presence and again was blessed by joy of seeing her overcome the odds and had the joy of hearing her sing, laugh, cry, and wine. I had the joy of seeing her this last weekend play with her cousins, dance beautifully, draw, and run this last weekend as we celebrated her fifth birthday. Every time I look at our son or granddaughter I am reminded of a season of intense intimacy I experienced as I talked honestly to God about my fears, my belief, my unbelief, my desires, my hopes, and admitted the powerlessness that terrified me.

I was overwhelmed with fear when our sons faced deployments in war zones. To wake up daily knowing they were in harm’s way is different kind of scary for which no one prepared me. I think those who have had loved ones killed or wounded in the line of duty have even more fears to face than I can even imagine. The deployments and a few other situations have been what I have called, the fear of the what “ifs.” They loom, but they don’t seem valid, because we don’t know if we will have to face them or not. Sometimes it is hard to share those kinds of things, because people don’t get them and we feel alone. But the truth is God is with us and will help us face whatever the outcome is and it is okay to talk about them.

I have watched some precious people deal with huge fears when the outcomes weren’t so positive. They lost jobs, spouses, children, marriages they wanted to keep, and homes their families have lived in for years. I have wondered what kind of fears they face when they have to provide for their families on no income. What kinds of fears surface when a widow or widower enters the house for the first time without their loved one and have to face their first night alone in a bed they once shared? What kind of fear looms over the parents who have had to lay such tiny beings to rest? What kind of fears do those betrayed by divorce have to overcome to find their joy again? What kinds of fears do those who lose their homes face? What kinds of fears loom on the horizon while a person waits on a medical test or gets back a test that is positive for cancer?

I used to feel a great amount of shame for the fear that I experience and that shame drove me away from God when I needed to cling to Him the most. I have heard some people say that fear is a lack of faith. I don’t agree with that. I think that fear is an opportunity to exercise faith as we take Him at His word and choose to cling to the truth of verses like the one above. I think that fear is a normal part of life and an opportunity to develop rich intimacy with God as we tell Him the truth about our fears, longings, and desires, and learn to trust His sovereignty.

Fear is personal in that we all have different things that trigger fear and we all respond to it and feel it’s intensity in different ways. We can choose to stuff it and never learn from it or we can acknowledge it to God and to safe people and move through it and learn from it. We do have some power over the fear in that we can choose to intensify it or decompress it by what we think about in regard to the fearful situations. What a gracious God we have. He tells us so much in that one verse: He is our God! He holds our right hand! He speaks directly to our hearts! We don’t have to fear, because He is the one who helps us. There is not a fear too big for Him to handle. He doesn’t promise to rescue us from every fearful situation…but He does promise to help us. When I am faced with the next fearful situation, I close my eyes and focus on Him so I can feel His hand in mine and I will listen for His voice to say, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” May we never forget that it is God who holds our right hands and speaks hope into our hearts as we face fearful situations.

Prayer: Father, thank you for promising to be with us every moment of every day. Thank you for speaking hope into our lives when we are afraid. Thank you for promising to help us through everything that we face. We love you and want to honor you even in the midst of our fear. Amen.

Loving Like Jesus

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:12

According to the Old Testament, we are to love the Lord God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and might. We are also to love our neighbors as ourselves. I have never been sure what that kind of love really looks like. Then one day I realized the above commandment Jesus gave tells us how we can begin to fulfill the Old Testament command. Essentially, the verse in John tells us to look at how Jesus loves and to use that as a standard for loving. It’s clear from both His words and actions that Jesus loved His heavenly Father, loved His friends, loved strangers, and loved Himself. It is also clear He loved His enemies.

What did Jesus’ love look like? It looked like spending time with His Father in prayer. It looked like trusting His Father even in the midst of storms, mistreatment, rejection, false accusations, and difficult tasks. It looked like resisting temptation. It looked like teaching, admonishing, and exhorting others. It looked like touching the untouchable. It looked like healing the sick, the lame, the blind, and the deaf. It looked like spending time with children, sinners, and the outcast. It looked like casting demons out of the souls of men. It looked like crossing cultural, gender, economical, and spiritual boundaries to invite all who would come, into a relationship with Him. It looked like being social and partying with friends. It looked like sharing openly His heart and seeking others where they were at. It looked like wrestling so hard He sweat blood over God’s will of the cross and His own desire to avoid it. It looked like choosing to obey His Father even in that severe state of angst so that He could reconcile us to Himself, which is in essence loving His enemies.

When we think of Jesus’ enemies, we tend to think of Satan, the Pharisees, those who mistreated Him, lied about Him, and who put Him to death. But, according to Romans 5:10, we were all enemies of God before we were reconciled to Him through Jesus. That’s such a sobering thought. If Jesus considered you and I His enemies when He chose the cross on our behalf, what right do we have to refuse to love those we call enemies? If we’re serious about loving as He loves, we must identify our enemies and choose to love them. They’re the people that aren’t for us, but are stand against us and the ministries we do. They’re the people who glare daggers through our hearts every time they see us. They’re the abusers who rob us of innocence or left bruises on both our bodies and our hearts. They’re those who criticize us, wounding us to the core of our being with harsh words. They’re those who refuse to see us, withholding love and compassion from us. They’re those who isolate us through slander or who kill or rob our joy on a daily basis. They’re those in positions of God-given authority who use their position to do great harm to those they should protect. Some even consider God an enemy. But, sadly, for many of us, our worst enemies are ourselves.

We must realize is that every person we hate is a person Jesus radically loved unto death. That same Spirit that loved you and I unto death indwells us and can empower us to love as He loves. The Spirit gives us the capacity to radically love when it’s humanly impossible to do so. It requires we bask in His love and choose to allow Him to love through us. As we are open to His working in our hearts and our lives we will become able to love with His love–and that is a love that knows absolutely no bounds. Have you allowed God to penetrate your heart with His pure and radical love? Is His love a reality in your everyday life? Does it help shape your attitudes, thoughts and actions? Does it overflow to those around you? Is it big enough to encompass your enemies?

Prayer: Father, thank you for loving us with your great love. Help us to meditate on it and let it shape our thoughts, attitudes, actions, and emotions. Help us to bask in the joy of knowing that we have always been, are now, and always will be radically, irrevocable, and eternally loved. Give us the desire to love like you have loved us. Give us humility and grace to see others as You see them. Give us wisdom in how to love in a way that invites others to more fully live in you light. Amen.

Your Fruit or God’s Fruit?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such there is not law."

Galatians 5:22-23

The last three “fruits of the Spirit” are virtues that seem to affect a person's heart while having the potential to spill over into the relationships they have with both God and others.

Faithfulness is from a Greek word that implies being reliable and trustworthy. It is the same word as used of the faithful servant in Luke 16:10-12. This could look like the repeated fulfillment of commitments that we have made to people. It could also include following through in even the smallest of things. It could also reflect faithfulness in our personal worship and quiet times with the Lord and our being faithful to corporate worship. It could extend even to faithfulness to God at those times when no one is watching us and we are faithful simply because we love Him.

The second word in the list is meekness. It marks a person who submits to God's word and is also gentle in their dealings with other people. That would be true in a situation where a person is called to comfort or encourage someone else. It can even be in a situation that calls for confrontation or discipline. It is when a person is gentle in the face of irritation or anger. We need to realize that gentleness is a characteristic that invites people to be transparent and vulnerable and often opens up many ministry opportunities. Gentleness in confrontation is possible when we realize that we are called to speak the truth in a loving way. We can do that when we are confident that it is God's spirit and His kindness that will lead the person to repent. Peter also mentions that God treasures a gentile quiet spirit in a woman. Meekness in no way is a reflection of weak people. It comes from a word that implies great power that is under control. In the face of adversity or in the middle of a confrontation that may not be going well, it takes more strength to remain gracious, gentle, and firm than it does to simply give in to the temptation to blow up in anger?

The last character trait of the fruit of the spirit is self-control. It is a word that denotes self-mastery and no doubt primarily relates to us being able to curb our fleshly impulses. This could include any of the physical appetites we have. Some of us can relate to fighting the urge to eat a whole pan of brownies. Some of us have been tempted to drink a friend's milkshake after you drank our own. Some of us have had to fight hard against the temptation to give in to sex outside of marriage. Some of us have to fight the urge to look down on others. Ironically, of our body is alive, we will be faced with the urge to respond in some way to our flesh on a daily basis. The flesh unfortunately will be with us until the day that we die. At the times that we don’t allow God to rule our fleshly appetites they will most likely be out of control and we fall prey to things like lust, gluttony, drinking, and self-promoting behaviors. However, when we are controlled by the Holy Spirit our fleshly appetites will be under control and we will use them in a way that promotes health, is not selfish, and is not self destructive. Even at our weakest points, His strength will be manifested in us and through us as long as we have our hearts turned toward Him.

We need to realize we can manifest “fake fruit” for a while. That means we can maintain behaviors that seem reflect any or all of the fruit in our lives, but we are essentially just “white knuckling it.” If it is produced in our own power it will have a tendency to create pride and be more of a self-righteousness that a God righteousness. As "the fruit of the spirit” is produced in us through God’s Spirit, He will get the glory and our lives will reflect His love to others and we will possess a humble heart. It is also important for us to realize that while it is God's job to produce His character in us, it is our job to participate in the process of cultivation or the fruit won’t happen. As we spend time with God in His word, praying, worshipping, and fellowshipping with other Christians we need to be listening to the Holy Spirit as He tries to weed out what is not holy or what is choking the fruit. Fruit is always produced so that it may be "eaten" and there are people around us who are in need of a taste of the goodness of God and the sweetness of His character. Psalm 34:8 says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good, how blessed is the man that takes refuge in him." When people are around you will they get a taste of the goodness of God or a taste of pride and self-righteousness? Will they experience His character and be drawn to Him or feel judged? Which of the fruit is lacking in your own life? What can you do to help the cultivation process?

Prayer: Father, we thank you for the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives and for the "fruit" He produces in our lives. Help us to be pliable and allow you to cultivate your character in us. May our lives reflect you and honor you in all that we do and say. Help us to be people who allow others to taste of your fruit in our lives so that they will see your perfect goodness and desire intimacy with you in ever increasing depths. Amen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Longsuffering, Gentleness, and Goodness

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness…"

Galatians 5:22

The first three qualities of the fruit of the Spirit are the Spirit’s productions of Godly character in us. These three qualities are interrelated. For instance, when we experience God's unconditional love we will experience joy. We will also develop the characteristic of peace and it will be a peace beyond our understanding in that it, too, will remain intact despite our circumstances. We cultivate all three of these characteristics by cultivating our relationship with God.

The next three qualities listed in the fruit of the spirit are longsuffering, gentleness, and kindness. They are all characteristics that are going to be visible as we interact and relate with other people. Long-suffering is courageous endurance through difficult situations and difficult relationships. Another definition said it was forbearance under provocation. That means being patient with someone when they are irritating or frustrating us. It carries the idea of being patient when you hear water dripping and can't get it to quit. Two extreme examples of this popped in to my head when I read that. One was when Christ was on the cross and when Stephen was being stoned. Both of them prayed for those killing them. Christ had every right to come off the cross and wipe out everyone, but His love kept Him there; compelling Him to pray for those crucifying Him. Steven, through the Holy Spirit was able to adopt the love and the longsuffering that Christ had and echoed His prayer for the men stoning Him.

Gentleness is the second fruit listed that is exhibited through relationships. It is simply being kind toward others. Christ displayed that in his dealings with people. He was kind to the adulterous woman who was brought to him. He was kind to the blind man He had given sight to when He sought him out after the religious leaders had confronted the man. He was kind to a leper that He had healed by His touch. He was kind to children that flocked to Him. He was gentle with the woman who was bleeding for 12 years and reached out and touched Him. He showed Mary kindness by defending her when others criticized her for anointing Him with expensive oil. He showed kindness to His mother, Mary, as He was hanging on the cross by asking his disciple to care for her. He showed Peter kindness by seeking him out after he had denied Christ three times.

Goodness is the last of the fruits that is visible through our relationships. It is essentially love in action. It has an implication of uprightness and is love expressed with pure motives and righteousness. It carries with it the indication of reaching out to others to do good even when they do not deserve it. In Acts 9 we find a lady named Dorcas who lived in Joppa. She was described as a woman who was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did. She had quite a ministry to widows and made them clothes and coats. They grieved her death so hard that Peter raised her from the dead.

These three fruits are of course produced in us through the Holy Spirit and that happens in us as a result of our growing relationship with Him. Because they are God's characteristics it is should be reemphasized that each of those character traits should be there whether the person or people we are relating to deserve it. Christ does not stop being kind, patient or good when we blow it or none of us would be here. We also want to remember that kindness and goodness does include confronting and working through conflict in a godly way. Many of us have behavioral patterns and defense mechanisms that have followed us from our pre-Christian days. As we listen to the Spirits guidance we will find more godly and mature ways of dealing with hurtful people that enhances relationships and helps us grow.

We need to let God change us from the inside out so that our actions and reactions are Godly and are representative of the character of God, especially when those people we are dealing with are difficult. We are to reflect the love of God towards them just as Christ did us. That can be very hard when we are facing someone who hates us. When that happens we want to stop and think about what it is that we desire the most. When the ugly and most hateful parts of our hearts rise to the surface we know that we don't deserve to be loved. Yet, that is when we long the most to have someone put their arms around us and tell us they love us. Christ has loved us like that and we are to be His living epistle and to extend that same love and goodness to others.

Is there relational fruit evident in our lives? Are we longsuffering with those people who get on our nerves? Are we gentlewomen not just in times of peace, but even in the face of confrontation and conflict? Are we good to those who don't deserve it? Again all of these characteristics will only be produced through the Holy Spirit; we cannot muster them up. Is there anything in our lives that might prevent His fruit from being evident in us? Are we willing to lay those things aside so others can see Christ in us and glorify God.

Prayer: Father, thank you for Your Holy Spirit and Your grace in producing Godly character in us that enhances our relationship with you and with other people. Help us to truly experience your love, joy, and peace so that we can show patience, goodness and kindness to others. Amen.


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!