Lenten Thoughts: Fear

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” ~Thoreau

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My daughter thought she wanted to be a marine biologist. When it came time for college, she chose a school with a great marine biology program in Florida. For all her excitement, you would have thought we birthed the next Jacques Cousteau. The excitement quickly faded during her Intro to Marine Biology course. The professor took the class to a lagoon to “get their feet wet.” Annie froze—literally. Tearfully and woefully, she returned to shore unable to complete the assignment. The reason for her freezing: she couldn’t see the bottom. The fear of what she could not see totally immobilized her. She ended up dropping the course, withdrawing from school, and after a short stay in Florida, returning home.

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Thinking of this I was reminded of Peter’s impetuous attempt at water-walking. He asked Jesus, and started out pretty confidently. It wasn’t until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves that he went down.

What was that about? I believe it had a lot to do with focus and fear.

Fear is the iceberg that all too often sinks our ship. Generally, what we can see doesn’t immobilizes us. It’s everything underneath. The things that we can’t see. The things we don’t know. The things we can’t control because we don’t know what they are.

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I guess Annie got her fear of murky water quite honestly—from her mother. Nelson and I traveled to South Carolina after we married to visit my grandparents. On our way back we tent camped at Myrtle Beach. Nelson bought a two-person inflatable raft. Since he knew that I was afraid of creatures that could be lurking in the murky, he would pull me out from shore and while I drifted back in he would swim about.

The system was working great until a current caught the raft and I started heading for Miami. I was panicked. Nelson had swum so far out that he couldn’t hear my cries for help. When he finally realized what was happening, he swam as fast as he could to save me. As he arrived at the raft his feet hit the bottom. He stood up–in ankle deep water. The raft was floating over a sandbar. We still laugh about how silly I looked, and the irrationality of my fear.

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Perhaps that is why Paul was so clear in his teaching that as believers we walk by faith and not by sight (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). Life gets murky. The waves rise around us. If we don’t keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we’ll go under as easily as Peter did—even if we are only in ankle deep water.
What are you looking at when we are frozen by your fears? Not Jesus. So many of the stories about Jesus’ encounters were with average people addressing enormous fears and receiving unbelievable miracles.

What are you afraid of right now? Are you walking by faith or struggling with holding onto to what you can see? If you’re going to get out of the boat, keep your eyes on Jesus. If the water is murky and you can’t see what’s there, let your faith lead your next step.

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Advent Begins

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Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

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Nehemiah Devotions Chapter 2, Day 3

The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” (Nehemiah 2:4, NLT)

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Six months. One hundred eighty days, give or take a few, Nehemiah opened his eyes and wondered if today would be the day.

He trusted God each to be laying the ground work. And each day he prayed to be ready.

And the time had arrived.

Nehemiah opened his mouth and shared his heart with the king and queen. He laid it out. He said needed. He had prayed for favor and kindness.

And that’s exactly what he got.

I can’t begin to what had been going on in the heart and mind of the king. Was he just having a day of benevolence? In the six months that Nehemiah waited had something happened to endear Nehemiah to the king making the favor expressed as natural as the sun coming up in the morning?

I don’t know. I am just convinced that Nehemiah was seeing God’s greatness unfold before his eyes. If God could do that then there’s nothing he can’t be trusted with.

Nehemiah knew that. Do we?

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Nehemiah Devotions: Chapter 2, Day 2

Then I was terrified, but I replied. (Nehemiah 2:2b-3a, NLT)

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We learned at the end of the first chapter Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. It was an important position. He was a public figure and was expected to present himself accordingly. He took his responsibility seriously and consistently presented himself appropriately. Until now.

The burden he carried had become so great that the weight began to show on his countenance. And the king noticed.

Would this be interpreted as insubordination, or dissatisfaction with his job? Neither would be acceptable to the king.

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At this point Nehemiah stood at a threshold. His response would leave him comfortable in the lifestyle he was accustomed to or throw him into the unknown as he followed God’s plan.

Nehemiah demonstrates great courage, and teaches us that courage doesn’t mean we won’t fear. We read here that Nehemiah was terrified. But in spite of his fear, his faith in the one who called him was enough to enable him to stand up and proceed across the threshold into the unknown.

Has God called you to step forward in faith? Are you afraid? Find your courage and confidence in the one who calls you.

Claim Paul’s words as you keep to the journey: And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

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Sermon Seeds: Faith and Foundation

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I’ve been meditating all week on Bible verses about faith. Here are a few:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Heb. 11:1

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Heb. 11:6

So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Ro. 10:17

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And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:22-24

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Lk 17:5

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Tim. 4:7

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:17 NLT

What I’m about to tell you is true. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is enough. Matthew 17:20

So, how is your faith today? Growing? Fading? Active? Passive?

Today as I was reflecting and preparing for Sunday’s message, I realized I’ve been pretty comfortable with where my faith has been. You can translate that as stagnant. I don’t feel good about either of those words. I went to front of our sanctuary and knelt in prayer. And wept.

I talk about the great things God wants to do in this church, in the lives of this body of believers, in this community…in me. But am I willing to step into that growth, willing to take on the changes for me? That’s scarey…and it’s all good. God’s promise and plan shouldn’t be a fearful thing.

So this revelation is going to cost me. Bonhoeffer wrote that there is no cheap grace…the same is true of faith.

This thing we call faith is the foundation for everything we build your spiritual life upon. We need to make sure it’s rock steady.

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Faith the Final Frontier

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:19

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I learn best when I can watch someone or I can see an example. Following written instructions, like how to crochet or knit, or even utilize a new cooking technique, ties my brain in a knot.

Thomas is my kind of guy. Show me. I need to see this incredible thing, because it’s just too complicated for my mind to grasp. It does not make sense.

Thomas responded skeptically, but he’s not the first person in the Bible. Sarah laughed when she heard God’s plan. Zechariah wanted a few details when he knew he had to explain to Elizabeth what God was doing. Gideon questioned God’s strategy for his army several times…just to be sure.

I get it. The things God does and says are bigger than our minds. He owns this principle: my ways are not your ways (Isaiah 55:8).

So even though Thomas “doubted,” Jesus appears and allows him to touch his side and hands. Thomas wasn’t kicked out of the club because he was confused. That is good news!

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But wait there’s more! Here’s the better news—news for you and me: blessed are those who have not seen (who don’t get your opportunity, Thomas), and yet believe.

That’s us. Looking into Thomas’ eyes, Jesus saw you and me. He knew how hard it was going to be to wrap our brains around resurrection. And he issued a “trust me” statement.

We have to take this one on faith…and if we will…we will be blessed.

PRAYER: Father, when you looked at Thomas kneeling there in reverence, believing because you revealed yourself to him…you saw me. And when you saw me, you knew it wasn’t going to be easy to believe. Thank you for extending your blessing to those of us who have not seen you in person, but who see you by faith. Please continue to show up when we have questions and reveal yourself. Open the eyes of our hearts to see you today, for you are our Lord and our God. Amen.

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When Will I See You Again?

For we walk by faith, not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7)

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I’m at Florida Christian Writers Conference. It’s a great place to be on so many levels. For one thing, the weather here is delightful. I’m also improving my craft, networking, and making new friends.

So, it might make more sense to you when I tell you I walked out on my balcony and prayed: Lord, where will I, when will I see you again? (And then I started singing, “When will I see you again?” by the Three Degrees…it’s on youtube if you need an earworm)

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I love my regular times with the Lord. Morning routines of prayer and attention to the Word can put such a positive energy into the beginnings of my day. If there’s a sunrise or a sunset filling the sky, it feels like God is tapping me on my shoulder reminding me he’s still there.

I have an “unscheduled” personality. When I take personality trait inventories, I come out on the side of less consumed with calendars and organization and with a far greater need to “fly by the seat of my pants.” (Ok, in MBTI terms, I’m off the scale P.)

Maybe that’s why I find it much easier to walk by faith. Sure, I’ve had to learn my God will provide and he has a plan. Trust often comes slowly. But I don’t need to know exactly how he’s going to do it. I’ve read the end of the Book, I know how things are going to end—we win! (Hope I didn’t spoil it for you.)

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Walking by faith doesn’t mean I’m walking blindly. I know how God operates. And I’ve learned I can trust him.

Walking by faith means I expect to see God at every turn, around every corner, in every encounter.

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And when I chose to walk this way, it is amazing what I see!

PRAYER: When will I see you again? Oh God, those words do not come from a doubting heart, but a heart believing you can be found all the way throughout my day. Those words come from a heart anticipating you will show yourself in amazing ways. Looking forward to seeing you.