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fear

How could David decide and declare in his darkest days that he would fear no evil?  Surely his valleys were just as deep or even much deeper than our own.  Surely the valley of the shadow of death that he referred to was a terrifying place.  Surely David “felt” afraid when he fought the giant; when his life was so repeatedly threatened by those much stronger than he; when he sinned so grievously; when his darling child died.  Surely David has much to be fearful and worried over.  Yet, David says, “I will fear no evil.

Feeling fear is not wrong.  Letting fear dictate our actions, reactions, and lack of action is what is wrong.  The difference is where David felt afraid, he simultaneously turned his eyes to God, trusted in Him fully, and submitted his own will to faith rather than giving in to his feelings.  In the midst of great fear, discouragement, suffering, and even personal failure, David refused to be led by anything other than the goodness of his great and all-powerful God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 

I will not.

I shall not.

I must not.

I need not.

I ought not.

I should not.

I have not.

These, too, are often just what I do.

Still, God does something different.  He leads me somewhere different.

 He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness…

He cares for me in every way I could possibly need or imagine.  His leading brings me to a place far too few ever find – peace.  When I am faithful to follow his lead, I find myself in abundance, stillness, restoration, and righteousness.  When I choose to put away want and look to Him, I find His peace; the peace that passes all understanding; the peace David was speaking of.

Nothing can take that kind of peace.  I fear nothing when I know that I know that He is with me, fighting for me.  I am comforted in Him despite any and all evil that might surround.  Fear is swallowed up by courage and confidence and it is all done for his name’s sake.  It is not just for me, it is for him, too.  Therefore, I am all the more sure He will bring it to perfect completion.

I know my future.  He awaits me in glory.  Therefore, I know my that neither my past nor the present can cause any want or fear to overcome me.  I know that goodness and mercy are what He intends for each and every day of my life, regardless of what valleys it may bring before me.

Therefore, I shall not want.  

Therefore, I will not fear.

Therefore, I am safe.

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Put fear behind you out of sight and mind, rebuke it as you do other sins –  it is one of the worst of them.  ‘The enemy’ may be a human foe, a bad habit, a false belief, or any peace destroyer.” ~Nora Holm, “The Runner’s Bible”

courage

Sunday school commences and my big kid husband reads the parable of the talents.  Between giggles and coos my thoughts on God suddenly become impeccably clear.

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ~ Matthew 25:24-30

The servant was “afraid.”

As the story was read, the main idea became crystal clear to me.  Fear is not and will not be an acceptable excuse to not invest in the things God has placed in our hands.  Fear does not justify us in sins of omission.

The servant who justified himself by claiming fear was judged wicked and lazy by his master.  R.C. Sproul notes that,  “The third servant was unwilling to do the work of investing the talent for the benefit of another.”

What, then, does that mean for those of us who struggle to use our hands, feet, voices, and abilities for God due to fear, worry, and anxiety?  What does the Bible teach us and how we are to overcome?

It means we must overcome fear.  The Bible teaches us that there is no fear in love.  When we love our Master, we do His will by investing ourselves and our gifts in His priorities – namely His people. We are to do this despite our fears. We are to do this despite our failure.  We are to do it despite our weaknesses, weariness, and worries.  When we love our Master, we do His will by investing ourselves and the gifts he has given to us against all odds.  Christians are called to be courageous.  Cowards, on the other hand, are listed among those who take their places in the second death.

When one fears God or men in an unhealthy way rather than loving Him and them truly, he will fail to serve either rightly.  That one will continually justify and excuse himself on the basis of fear.  Likewise, if we use fear as the reason for our lack of investment in God’s gifts and His people, we will be sorely judged on the basis of disobedience and unfaithfulness in what we were given.

We must overcome fear because we know that while it may indeed be a reason for our stagnancy, it is not and never will be a reasonable excuse for it.  The question we must cease asking immediately is then, “How can I justify my lack of investment?”  We must change our focus from the problem (fear) to the solution (Christ) and begin to ask rather, “How can I overcome my fear through Christ and begin to invest earnestly?”

The answer is found in believing and applying the promises of God and dismissing the reasons and justifications of the world’s wisdom.  Because courage is required of Christians on a daily basis, we must understand what courage looks like and how it feels.  Courage is not the lack of fear or anxiety.  Courage is being afraid and anxious but trusting more in God to do whatever He is instructing me anyway.  God did not place gifts, abilities, opportunities, and, most importantly, people, in our laps for us to hide from and avoid.

Fear is unbelief and distrust of the Master.  Though we may experience fear frequently, He has been faithful to give us the resolution to it.  Consider His many promises and be free from fear:

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. ~Psalm 23:4

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 41:3

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. ~2 Timothy 1:7

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid? ~Psalm 27:1

 So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” ~Hebrews 13:6

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~John 14:27

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. ~1 John 4:18

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry,“Abba! Father!” ~Romans 8:15

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me? ~Psalm 56:3-4

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident. ~Psalm 27:3

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. ~Matthew 10:29-31

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”~ Joshua 1:9

There are many more examples of our Master giving us hope and courage to overcome fear in the Bible, but I am going to be focusing on each of these particular scriptures  individually  in context over the next few weeks to explore exactly what kind of assurance He has given us despite our fear in this world, what kind of faith He is calling us to live out, and what courage in the face of fear really looks like practically.

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It seems that a lot of schooling has been going on lately in a mass effort to indoctrinate us all on introverts – who they are, how they love, what they like, how not to hurt them, and what color t-shirt one should wear each day of the week to appease their code of standard if you ever want to be allowed into their world.

I am no expert on personality.  I am certainly not a psychiatrist or a sociologist.  But I am a person.  I am a person who is at least 50% introvert.  I am a person who knows what the Bible teaches, and because of that, I do know something of how this whole human behavior thing is supposed to play out if we are all seeking to obey the same God, that is.

I would be considered an extrovert by most.  The truth is that I am extremely extroverted and I am extremely introverted depending on my day, my mood, my surroundings, and the cosmic alignment of stars in a galaxy we cannot see.

I do not understand all the reasons for what places or persons trigger which personality traits, but I do know that when I was a little girl I was both the one hiding behind mom’s skirt and the one tirelessly raising my hand to be noticed by the teacher in school.  I do know that when my husband and I talked about getting stick figure tattoos of one another I thought he would get me as a girl lumberjack cutting down trees and he told me he would get me reading a book with my hair pulled back.  I see myself loud, he sees me quiet.  We, together, know my personality best.  Perhaps it indicates the plain truth that I prefer to see myself loud and he prefers to see me quiet.  No surprises there.  I say all that to say I believe I am quite equally extroverted and introverted.

Now, let me tell you what happens to a girl like me when I am around other extroverted people.

If I feel comfortable and accepted, I pick up the banjo I cannot play and join right in there.  If I feel uncomfortable and out of place, I become the quietest wallflower you have ever seen hoping someone calls me so I don’t have to find a cookbook to pretend I am reading.

My biggest problems in relationship have not come at the table of other extroverts, though.  They have come at the table of other introverts.

When two people both feel equally uncomfortable with one another – whether it is because one personality is too strong and the other too timid or because both are too timid, both begin to feel some kind of way about the other.  Not because they have been sinned against per se, but because by nature an introverted person does not let others know him or her in a real way.  Not much good ever comes out of not knowing someone whom God has placed in your backyard.

These are the neighbors living next door to each other for 20 years but who have never had dinner together.  They are the colleagues working together daily for 10 years who still do not know each other’s personal lives and loves.  And, yes, these are the members in your church who assume and presume upon each other without ever allowing real relationship because somewhere along the line they have deemed one another unsafe or impossible.

Pride is an ugly thing.  Pride says that my personality is principle and yours needs to change.  Pride says that my perceived pain is caused by your personality.  Pride says that perfection is paramount if you are unlike me in personality because my comfort and security come from control and calm rather than Christ alone.

People say I am intimidating.  They say it is because I am too blunt, too opinionated, too educated, too put together, and too pretty.  I do not know that any of those things are very true of me, but I have been told them on numerous occasions by numerous people.  So, while it may indeed be uncomfortable and unfamiliar for an intimidated introvert to be around me when I am looking particularly extroverted, I do not believe that alone indicts me as the sinner and they the victim of my insensitivity.  Likewise, try as my flesh may, I have no license to indict those ones as the sinner and take on a victim mentality over things that make you, you.

Hear this: I can no longer apologize for who I am as a person simply because other people do not like their coffee strong.  And you should not have to apologize for feeling uncomfortable about it.  We must stop calling differences sin.  I cannot repent of being me and you cannot repent of being you.  But there are things we can do.  There are things we must do if we are going to grow, mature, for goodness sake, even survive together.

I can study others – if and when they let me – and I can do all I can to meet their needs in Christ – if and when they tell me what those needs are and how I am making them feel.  You can do the same.  But unless and until that happens I do not believe we extroverted introverts deserve to be charged, judged, convicted, and shunned indefinitely on the basis of your misplaced fear or discomfort.  The same goes for you in regards to me.  That way, you don’t get to blame and exclude me because I am me and I don’t get to blame and exclude you because you are you.  God forbid!  The more we feel distance and tension, the more we should feel the Holy Spirit convicting us to seek peace and pursue unity, relationship, and active reconciliation.

Furthermore, I can no longer concede to the accusations that extroverts and those who speak their mind are the only ones dealing out hurt.  Extroverts may unintentionally hurt introverts by saying too much, but the truth that does not get told nearly as often is the one where introverts’ lack of initiation, interaction, response, and reciprocation, albeit also unintentional,  is also severely injurious to others.

Where the former makes others feel fearful and uncomfortable, the latter makes others feel unnecessary, uninvited, unwelcome, and burdensome.  It is true enough that speech may injure when done in ignorance of others’ needs.  So also true it is that silence injures when done in ignorance of others’ needs.  Wrong speech silences.  Silence silences.  Both make God’s people feel discouraged, hurt, insecure, and hopeless.

To that end I say, let me love you like Lori loves and I promise you that I will let you love me like you love.  Let me pray with you and I will resolve to let you pray for me if you’ll just let me know you did.  Talk to me and I will try not to talk to you too much.  Let’s look around and discern one another’s needs and stretch ourselves outside of our preferences and personalities in order to meet them.

This is more than a personality conflict.  Psychology always gives men justification for sin.  This is a bona fide war between God and the Devil and the church is the battleground.  We must fight the good fight together lest we all fall apart on the basis of preference, comfort, complacency, and individualism.

 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. ~Galatians 5:13-15

confess

“Is anyone among you suffering?”

Can any one of us answer this question with anything other than an absolutely overwhelming, “YES!?”  We all personally know many, many people who are suffering every single day.  In chapter 5, James tells us that their comfort is found in prayer.  He gives only one instruction for those suffering: pray.

“Is anyone cheerful?”

What do we do when we experience joy?  James tells us to sing praise to God.  I recently had a miraculous experience wherein joy was poured out upon me.  When we are happy, it is hard to contain.  Should we?  James says no.

“Is anyone sick?” 

There is a prescription for sickness, too.  Those who battle illness are instructed to call for the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.

Do we, the church, go directly to these commands when suffering, or cheerful, or sick?  Do we do these things?  Are these our first lines of defense and reaction?  Do we believe this?  Do we do them?

Because our churches are chock full of sufferers and sickness.  And last time I felt extraordinarily cheerful, I actually felt out of place and insensitive for just being so – even without saying so – among all the downcast hearts.

Why are these things rarely happening on any given Sunday in the church today?  We know we have suffering, cheer, and sickness.  There can be no doubt about that.  But where is prayer?  Where is non-rehearsed, naturally overflowing, honest praise?  Where is leader-led laying on of hands and anointing with oil prayer?

James goes on.  He gives us the means to this end.  Maybe the means are what is truly missing.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Aha.  Confession.  Confession – specifically in community – is the means to these ends.  Confession in community is the remedy for suffering.  Confessing that one is suffering is the first line of defense against that suffering.  When we hide our suffering from one another – whether it is not our fault, sin-related, or otherwise – we fail to ask for and receive prayer.  We often fail to pray because of doubt and discouragement.  We miss healing and wholeness because of the fear of man and pride.  Those who suffer are commanded to confess those things and to pray and be prayed for.  The same instructions pertain to those who are sick.

The cheerful have other confessions to make.  The cheerful are commanded to sing praise.  When God blesses us with good times, we are called to give him glory.  We are instructed to sing praise.  Our good is not just for our benefit.  Our good is meant to give to those around us.  We give him glory by confessing his goodness in community.

So why does the church struggle so with transparent community if that is exactly what we are commanded to do?  Community that laughs together, cries together, confesses together, and learns together?  To know and be known?  To share and to care?  To give and to receive?

I am sure there a too many reasons to count, but I have considered a few.

1. Misplaced Fear

Many in the church fear men over God.  We often fear what someone may think or say of us when and if we are honest about our sin, our doubts, our joy, or our disbelief.  There is a severe lack of willingness to be known within the church for this reason.  Still, failure to confess does not only make us superficial and fake, it proves us painfully dishonest.

2. Pride

Confessing our struggles, our sins, our sickness, and even our joy can become a matter of personal pride and preference.  There is an attitude going on in our world and our church today that says, “I am above others and I will never let them see my imperfections.  I will listen to theirs and judge them but I will never reveal mine.  I cannot look less than because I value my reputation more than God’s Word.  I want respected.”  This kind of prideful pretending is a lie straight from the pit of hell.  God is probably up there saying, “Please, get over yourself and listen to me.”

3. Ignorance

There are those who see everyone’s sin except their own.  They are completely ignorant of their own offenses and even when enlightened by well-meaning brothers and sisters, they refuse to acknowledge the truth that would set them free.  These are the religious – perhaps the most difficult group to preach the gospel to.

4. Love of sin

No one likes to suffer or remain sick but many love the sin that holds them in those bondages.  Everyone wants help as long as they do not have to change.  The church must not enable this kind of attitude by failing to call people to repentance and confession.  We cannot pretend there is no problem when it is clear that rebuke is in order.

These are just a few examples that I believe shed light upon why our churches are full of people who are suffering, sick, and fail to honestly confess to and pray with one another. Brian T. Anderson puts it this way in his book, Six Habits of Highly Effective Christians:

Many of the healing miracles Jesus performed involved physical healings.  But Jesus also healed broken hearts, broken relationships, broken dreams, and broken identities.  These are just some types of healing we can experience when we confess our sins to each others and pray for each other. 

Community is one place where is is fully safe for us to take off our masks and know the healing power of being known and loved.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were naked and not ashamed.  The idea behind this is there were no secrets.  They were fully known and loved.  Everything about them was revealed.

What happens in many churches is that people attend every week, but no one knows them, and they are dying inside.  Nobody knows their fears, their dreams, or their problems. That’s not Jesus’ plan for his community.  The only way to receive healing is to make the choice to begin living in community with other people.” 

Amen.  Amen, amen, amen, amen.  It does not get any truer than that.  If we want to be healed and set free, we must be honest.  We must confess to one another.  We must work to know Him and one another and be known by Him and by one another.

Satan loves pretense.  He loves to masquerade.  Stop acting like him, church.  You belong to Christ.

The Power Issue

power

Healing begins with a broken heart.  One who has never been broken often fails to recognize pain, need, hunger, loneliness, and poverty.  One who chooses to stay broken clings to the security of neediness and ignores the pain, need, hunger, loneliness, and poverty of others for his own.  But for the one who has been broken and healed, broken and has forgiven, broken and been forgiven – that one loves much.

The more a heart bleeds, the more potential it has for love to flow out, or, the more potential it has to sew itself shut and dwell in egotistical narcissism as long as possible.  The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.  The one who has been broken much either considers only itself and its every selfish need in bitterness and fear, or, considers the brokenness in others most of all.

There are so many things that God has shown me over the last 19 days.  There are so many things He has done in me and through me during this time.  It would take a book to explain it all.  Maybe one day I will take that journey.  Or, if you ask me, I would love to tell you all about it.  For today, I have just a few truths to share.

I am so extremely, amazingly, beautifully humbled and thankful for the glimpses of glory I have seen so clearly recently.  These days He has given to me have each felt like Christmas – Christmas Eve, even.  Each day has been met with great anticipation, wide-eyed wonder, and undeserved, unbelievable gifts.

But, it began with brokenness.  The more my bright eyes beheld, the more my heart began to break.  The need in every life everywhere is overwhelmingly great.  As I sought to help and hoped to heal, I was given the greatest gift I have ever known – a gift I had not even asked for.  That gift is joy.  Real, true, unadulterated joy.  Joy inside.  Joy despite.  Joy deep.  Joy uninterrupted.

There can be absolutely no doubt this gift was given to me by God himself through the laying on of hands and prayers of a faithful, fearless fellow Christian.  Never once before this time have I ever experienced such freedom and freshness in my faith.  What God did through the prayers of his servant was nothing short of miraculous.

Not only was I immediately emptied of angst and worry, I was immediately filled with joy unlike that which I had ever known.  I was also given a great desire and urgency to pray constantly.  Me- a girl who writes books about why I cannot seem to pray and struggles to pray at all.

But now, God.  Now, GOD! God leads my prayers in a way I have never known before in nearly twenty years of Christianity.   God is using my prayers to lead and direct me to people and places and actions and needs like never before.  He has given me a great boldness to both pray and preach the gospel to anyone and everyone who will listen.  He has taken away my fear.  He is showing me things I should and would not know.  I know beforehand things I later come to see.  He is moving me, guiding my every step by His Spirit and confirming his direction with unmistakable signs and wonders.  And I am amazed like I have never been amazed before.  And if you will not ask me about it I will tell you anyway because you can’t make this stuff up and God will have glory because of it.

He gave me new knowledge, new eyes, new compassion, new strength, new joy, and yes, even a brand new life growing inside of me all at the same time.  God gave me rest in the earthly realm and realness in the spiritual one.  His message was one of comfort, joy, healing, and hope.  Judgement, restoration, and revival are what he has shown to me.  Joy, healing, and powerful, effective prayer are what he has given to me.

God does not want His people to be stagnant.  He is moving and His people are to be moving.  He is moving his people.  Still water is dead water.  Stagnant water is diseased water.  God is building his house in great power – and that power is prayer.  His living water will be rushing through it at all times lest he shut the doors and close it up.  He spits out pretense and all who set themselves up against his purposes through prayer.  God seeks to demolish strongholds and bring boldness to his people through prayer.

The seeds are planted firmly in the ground.  May the Lord bring a great harvest of hope, healing, and regeneration through obedience to public and private prayer and the laying on of hands.  May it be what he uses to break the spirit of pride, pretense, rigidity, and position in our families, churches, communities, governments, and nations.  Amen.

Nothing but gratitude and respect for this guy!

“A message from the Lord that he impressed upon my heart was this: “Jesus really loves me and enjoys me and gives me freedom to enjoy life with no fear.”

Bringing people into the reality of that statement is ultimately the goal of ministry. It implies and relies upon the constant presence of Jesus to reveal himself and make alive.”

Craig Stephans

I completed two weeks plus of residency in pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY.  The campus is a picturesque setting this time of year, as is the surrounding countryside.  God has brought together a diverse group of 55 or so men and women in ministry from all parts of the globe.  Many states of the US are represented as well as Australia, Philippines, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Israel, Liberia, Nigeria, England, Ireland and Canada.  At the first session of orientation, we had assigned seating.  Beside me happened to be a pastor from Ohio, Brian, who grew up in Edenton, NC and whose parents met while attending ECSU, a local college.  Beside him was Simon, an Anglican priest from the Province of Kenya who, of course, knows our friend Qampicha Wario, now Bishop of the Diocese Marsabbit and “one of our best bishops” according to Simon.

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The three…

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Today, the third day since the healing began (just like the last time)  the pastor spoke about a prideful king whom God brought low, stripped of his securities and idols , and afflicted with a mental disorder.  I am that king.  I am the prideful one who worshiped self.  I am the violent one who sat on a throne of anger against God’s people.  I am the arrogant one who oppressed His anointed.  I am the lowliest one whom he has chosen to use and restore after a time of severe judgement.  I was prideful and angry at God and his people.  I was humbled and brought low by his judgement.  I have been miraculously restored by his amazing grace.  I know this is true.

When the sermon came to a close and pastor spoke the name “Jesus” many times in the conveying of the gospel, each time I felt the Holy Spirit physically act inside my body.  The power I felt as the name of Jesus was spoken at this time is inexplicable.

It is no coincidence that today, the daughter that was not to exist was dedicated to the Lord.  This one – who came years after a physical surgery preventing her.  This one – who came just one year after a marriage thought surely lost.  This one – a Son-ny whom God promised before she was even physically possible or logically believable.  This one – who moments after birth fell silent at her Daddy’s calm voice.

Neither is it a coincidence that afterward I saw my spiritual father at a picnic where I brought blackberry pie and picked wild ones.  Daddy was there.  Father God was there.  Redemption is here.  Restoration is complete.  I am free.  That, friends, is how God heals the broken.

As I write, my 11 year old daughter cries because she thinks her Daddy is sleeping.  She thinks he has forgotten about her and all their plans to finish building a chicken coupe.  She does not know I have already told him to attend to her.  She does not know he is awake.  She does not know he has not forgotten and cannot wait to go outside and work with her as long as it is Day .  “Why don’t you go wake him up?” I ask.  “He won’t.”  “How do you know?”  “Because I know him.”

No you don’t.  I did not know either of my fathers the way I wish I would have.  One slept for sickness and one I thought was sleeping for neglect.  I was wrong.  I have learned not to presume upon His grace or lack thereof any longer, though.  My Father is not, nor ever was he sleeping.  He wants me to come jump on the bed and tell him how much I cannot wait to do with him every single day.  I will be silent at his calm voice.  I am, after all, the daughter who was promised to a Son long before it was either logical or believable.

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