Monday, December 9, 2013

God Meets us in our Fear

"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
Psalm 18:1-3
As a volunteer youth worker, I had the privilege of  having many young ladies tell me about the things that caused them emotional pain. I remember having a conversation with a girl about the things that made her feel anxious. She shared that her parents were going through a rough spot in their marriage. They were fighting a lot and in their frustration their fighting had been getting louder and some things were being said that I am sure they both regretted. As she spoke, I was overwhelmed by this feeling of having everything fall apart. I brushed it aside, assuming that the feeling was only the empathy I was feeling for her.
I asked her what she did when they fought. She said she would take her little sister in her bedroom and put on loud music and give her toys to play with and then she would go sit at the top of the stairs where she could hear and see what was going on without being observed. I asked her why she did it when the issue was obviously between her parents and caused her so much anxiety. She said something to me that resonated with me to the core of my being. "I have to hear so I know what to expect! Not knowing if they are going to stay together or not is more terrifying than hearing what they are saying." I tucked her words back in my mind to think about later, but avoided them. 
That conversation took place over twelve years ago. Yet the Lord has brought those words to my mind again. I have since done some work with a Christian therapist and I know why I was so triggered by her words. I was the same little girl she was describing herself to be. I was only nine when my parents went through a rough spot and considered divorce strongly enough to tell us kids. They worked through it at that time, but I know every time I heard them talking late at night I tried to hear their words. Every time they went into their bedroom and closed the door, my little ear was listening at their door...because not knowing what was going on was more terrifying than knowing the truth.
I had taken on a false responsibility of trying to keep our family in tact. I know now it wasn't my job and that it is impossible for a child to control the decisions parents make, but it seemed so real that when I left home for college I experienced extreme anxiety and horrible homesickness because I didn't know what was going on at home. Don't get me wrong, my parents weren't loud mean fighters...they were really good at hiding their stuff so I had to be extra vigilante to read the signs of trouble brewing. When they later did divorce, my gut reaction was guilt and a sense of failure. But as an adult, I was able to reason that it really wasn't my fault.  
As an adult I have experienced the same fear and anxiety that comes with believing things are falling apart. The most obvious was when the twin towers fell on 9-11. I have heard many people express that feeling when the economy took suck a big down turn a few years ago. Sadly, I have also experienced that feeling many times in the different churches of which I have been a member. I know anytime a group of individuals with differing temperaments, spiritual gifts, backgrounds, goals, and desires come together there will be conflict and sometimes it handled well and sometimes it isn't.
But looking back, every time I have heard of conflict in a church I am attending (and it has been in every church I have attended) that old familiar anxiety comes up and I become that little girl ever listening at her parents' door. I have known for awhile that the amount of anxiety I experience has always seemed too big for the situations. Yesterday, I think finally figured out why. 
As a little kid, it was normal for me to look to my family to feel safe and secure. As a preschooler I saw a bad accident on the road and looked to my mom to reassure me that everything was going to be okay. During the Cuban crisis every time I heard an airplane fly over, I would look at my dad to see if he looked worried or scared. When he didn't, I knew I could relax and all would be okay. 
After I left home and got married my parents divorced and I transferred that need for security to my church. We have lived in several states and attended many churches. In every one of those churches things have happened where that sense of security was shaken. Sometimes through conflict, sometimes through the loss of pastors or key leaders or close friends with whom I spent hours fellowshipping.
Had I grown up in a Christ centered home my parents would have taken it as their responsibility to teach me that my true security, my family's security, my churches' security, and my country's security is in the one and only true Rock -- Jesus! 
Yesterday, Pastor Brent Van Elswyk preached a sermon about the sayings of angels around the birth of Jesus. Two points of his sermon spoke volumes to me in regard to those yucky feelings of my world falling apart. The first was "Do not be afraid...when every thing falls apart. Trust God!" I realized that fear and anxiety set in because I focus on the state of feeling like my world might crumble, but the truth is God is in control even when it doesn't look like it from the view down here. Instead of transferring my security from my family to God, I had transferred it to church which is simply made up of a bunch of other wounded souls, who like myself, are learning to work out their salvation. The truth is God was, is now, and always will be trustworthy. 
The second point that spoke to me was, "Do not be afraid...when God burst into your life!" He went on to point out many different ways that God can burst into our lives and I have taken the liberty to expand his list.
God bursts into our lives with the announcement of a pregnancy , planned or not.
He bursts into our lives with changes in our government, desired or not.
He bursts into our lives during natural disasters -- flooding, earthquakes, or tornadoes.
He bursts into our lives, in the loss of those close to us, some old, some way too young, some with sweet goodbyes and some without.
He bursts into our lives when kids disobey or are wounded to the core by bullies.  
He bursts into our lives when we realize our spouses aren't perfect and that living with them exposes our own sinful attitudes, strongholds, and unresolved issues. 
He bursts into our lives in the midst of ugly divorces and fractured families, some with abundant grace and some with deep and painful bitterness.
He bursts into our lives when friendships crumble and reconciliations fail even when we have done everything we know to do to make them work. 
He bursts into our lives when we are traumatized by events, past or present.
He bursts into our lives by altering our dreams and  plans...when infertility robs us, when a baby is born way too early, when a company transfers us, when early retirement is forced, when ministries are shut down, or when we are told we aren't needed anymore, when injuries or health force changes in careers, when accidents change us in someway forever either physically or emotionally through PTSD. 
By learning to reframe anxiety provoking situations which turn me back into that little girl who listened at her parents door into "bursts of God" into my life, I can be a woman who finds my hope in Him who by His very nature is both sovereign and good. If I can let the truth of His goodness and His sovereignty sink into the deepest recesses of my heart, then those bursts, instead of provoking anxiety, become opportunities to see God at work in my life just as He did in the life of Noah who in facing a flood survived God's judgment on the earth...just as He did in the life of Abraham who was called to sacrifice his only child saw the miraculous substitute ram...just as He did in the life of Joseph sold by his brothers in to slavery who ended up being their salvation during a famine...just as He did in the life of Rahab who saw her city crumbled to become the grandmother of David...just as He did in the life of Ruth who buried one husband to become a part of the lineage of Christ...just as He did in the life of young Mary who was faced with an unplanned pregnancy not of her own doing to giving birth to the Son who became her Savior as well as mine.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God Meets us in our Faith

 "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were stranger and exiles on the earth." --Hebrew 11:13

I have been mulling over the third chapter of Daniel this week. The events in the chapter take place shortly after Daniel had interpreted a dream the king of Babylon had in which he saw a great statue made of different elements. Unsettled by the dream, he had called in his wise men to both recount the dream and tell him of its meaning. Sounds impossible and it was! Instead of listening to his advisors, the prideful king ordered them to be executed.

When they came to get Daniel for execution, he asked to have a meeting with the king to explain the meaning. In the meantime he had an emergency prayer meeting with his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, asking God to reveal the dream and its meaning. Daniel was shown the dream and its meaning by God and was able to explain to the king that each element in the statue represented different kingdoms which would come to power. The head of the statue was made of gold, representing Babylon. The other parts of the statue made of different elements represented subsequent kingdoms that would come to be after Babylon fell.

The King seemed thankful, declaring Daniel's God to be the God of gods and the Lord of kings. Daniel remained in the king's court, requesting that his prayer partners be appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon. It even looked like the king had a change of heart towards Daniel's God.

However, the more the king thought about the dream, the less he liked the outcome. He was not willing to accept Jehovah 's sovereignty over the beginnings and endings of kingdoms. So he took matters into his own hands in an effort to thwart the plans of God. He built a huge statue, but unlike the statue of his dream, he made the statue entirely of gold -- the element depicting Babylon in the dream.

What happened to the truth he had previously stated, "Daniel's God was the Lord of kings?" Did he not mean it? What a bold statement of rebellion the statue was! He then commanded all the leaders of all the provinces in Babylon to bow down and worship the statue every time they heard music, making the consequence of noncompliance death in a fiery furnace.

That's one way to win loyal friends and weed out potential enemies! Just have them worship a god of your own making and vow to kill them when they fail. That is one way to thumb your nose at Jehovah and His sovereignty over nations. Make your own statue in defiance of the vision he had been given. The king's religion, like pagan religions tend to do, used fear to manipulate compliance. I bet the smoke of the ever-ready furnace motivated many people to bow down to the stone idol. But not everyone! Daniel's prayer partners refused to bow to the statue and were brought to the king by some manipulative men and the king enraged demanded the soldiers throw them into the fiery furnace. And just to be sure they were punished well, the furnace was overheated, instantly killing the soldiers, but to the kings surprise it did not kill the prayer partners.

The king was the first to see it. As he smugly gazed into the furnace he saw the three men who had been bound standing with their God, the God who Himself is a consuming fire. They stood unharmed. The king called the men out. The once bound men climbed out of the fire -- their skin unburned, their hair  not singed, their clothes in tack and free of the smell of smoke! Astonished the king promotes them and declares that no one would be allowed to speak evil of their God.

What I find interesting is that the king only called the men out of the furnace. Why didn't he call the Lord out as well? Was it because he didn't want to face the Lord of kings? Was it fear because of his own defiance? Was it because he expects God to react like he does?

There are several things that come to mind when I think about this story.

The king's pride kept him from accepting the sovereignty of the Lord of kings.

The king's pride drove him to openly rebel and assert his own will over the Lord's.

The king's pride kept him from listening to wise advisors.

The king's pride drove him to lash out in anger when people didn't comply with his edicts.

And in the end, God put the prideful king in his place.

Oh, that God will continually expose my pride...pride that refuses to listen to wisdom, pride that wants my own will more that His, pride that get enraged when I am challenged by another, pride that too quickly writes off others when they have an opinion differing from my own.

The self absorption of the king makes me sick. But that only is because it exposes my own. Oh, my pride doesn't look just like the kings, it looks a whole lot more like self-contempt...but to be perfectly honest it is just as consuming and just as seeped in unbelief.

Oh, that I would be faithful like Daniel's three friends. Faithful in prayer. Faithful in the small decisions. Faithful in seeking God's face every day no matter where I am at. Faithful in the face of the hard, fiery things. Faithful even when the outcome isn't climbing out of the fire. Faithful enough to look for him in the fiery places.
I have had a few fiery experiences in which prayers were graciously answered my way -- a child who survived a ruptured spleen, a grandchild born way to early who survived and thrived, two sons and a daughter-in-law who have survived military deployments and returned home in one piece. But I have also seen others far more faithful than I who didn't get the results prayed for. One dear friend who, like me, had five children, but three of hers were living with Jesus from infanthood. A week before she died she told me she was blessed beyond measure with her two living children, knowing without a doubt that God has been good to her. I have watched faithful, praying parents stand at the grave's of their children fully believing God could heal but He had every right to chose how he healed . They at times did wish it had been here, not in heaven. But in the midst of grief trusted God's sovereignty over their lives. And I have friends who attend our church and who have a solid faith whose child didn't make it home from the same war my sons fought. We grieved, but we grieved with hope.  
Hebrews chapter 11 makes it so clear to us that what is important is that we be found faithful and that God honors faith in different ways. Sometimes He honors it through miracles, promises fulfilled, and in answered prayer and sometimes not.
I have got to remember the key verse today..."These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."
Oh that I would hold, loosely the things of this earth. Understanding that verse frees me from the irrational guilt of wondering if I prayed hard enough, often enough, or sincerely enough when God answers prayers differently than I asked. Maybe the key to accepting God's sovereignty is accepting the truth that my real home is heaven and that the here and now is, well, essentially living in exile and to be His child means living with the desire for a better country, while being contented in the here and now. 
Our God is so different than the king in the story. He didn't throw us away when we have failed to worship Him with our words, our actions, or our lifestyles. Instead, He sent His son to bear His wrath for our sin by having Jesus die in our place on the cross. He didn't draw us to Himself by instilling fear in us. Instead, He used His perfect love fulfilled in the cross to cast out our fear of judgment. This enables us to worship in adoration instead of fear! And that, in a nutshell, is the grace and the mercy that flowed from the heart of our God.        


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!