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: From Our Fears Release Us

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In my quiet time this morning, I was reflecting on Psalm 3:

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Fear. Fear bordering on paranoia. Bullying.
I read a news clip this week of a teen who killed herself because her peers had been bullying her. My heart ached, for her, for her family, for those peers.
What if this psalm had been breathed into her? What if God, God who could enable her to lay down in perfect peace in the presence of her enemies–and sleep–had been made real for her?
How real is he to me?
Save us, God, from our fears.
The words to an old hymn are in my head now:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. (Charles Wesley)

Oh that we could come to know the Perfect Love that casts out all fear.

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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Puzzle Pieces

Sometimes it feels like God dumps a thousand-piece puzzle in the floor of your heart. ~Susan Stillwell

I read this quote this morning and it resonated deep in my heart.

I have ADD. Literally and spiritually.

Here’s what I know about ADD and me. If I am presented with a very large task, I have to break it into small, manageable pieces or it won’t get done. For example, when I know I have to “clean the house,” instead of feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the task, I consider each room individually, or even parts of each room (making the bed, cleaning the closet, dusting, vacuuming, etc.). I do the same thing when it comes to writing anything over a thousand words.

I’ve always done the same thing with puzzles. I’ve never been a big fan of jig-saw puzzles, even though I used them often as a counselor. In that setting they were a tool. I could learn a lot about a child by the way they went about putting a puzzle together. They were also useful with adults for group activities.

But to sit an work a puzzle was not enjoyable for me.

So when I read Susan’s quote…I felt a heaviness in my heart. My life looks a lot like a 5000 piece puzzle, spread out before me. And I don’t want to put it together…but I don’t want to leave it undone, either.

As I got quiet before the image of the pile, I remembered a verse in Psalm 139: You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me (verse 5).

The best way for me to begin to tackle a large puzzle is to find the edge pieces and assemble the frame. God wants to be my spiritual frame.

The next thing is to find blocks of portions that go together: a house, a tree, flowers, or a quilt. In my spiritual life this looks like finding the identifiable parts like fellowship, worship, study, prayer and making sure those parts are put together and active in my life.

Finally, I have to trust that the rest of the pieces will fit together. It works the same with God in my life. It often takes time and even trial and error to put all the pieces together–but nothing happens until I try.

Then, what seemed overwhelming at first, becomes something beautiful and amazing.

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I wrote all that but somehow I just couldn’t push the publish button.

I was so in my head…so Madame Counselor…so preachy…I nearly made myself sick. (Maybe that’s why I was throwing up in my dreams last night…and my house was overrun by cats…or maybe I should have taken my omeprazole.)

It was truth for me. It is how I do puzzles. When I do puzzles. But I don’t like to do puzzles.

And I don’t like when God dumps a puzzle in front of me. Especially not a 1000 piecer.

And the ones I really don’t like are the ones that are all one color, or designed on both the front and back so you can’t hardly tell where anything goes. And I can’t ever imagine tackling a 3-D one.

I want the 25 piecer, or better yet the wooden frame or cardboard kind that have the pieces outlined. You know, the no-brainer type.

That way I can’t mess it up…and I might get it done. God knows to do that, doesn’t he? He knows I get bored and tend to give up easy. He wouldn’t call me to something bigger than myself…would he?

To be continued…

Advent 21: Controversy

I don’t like controversy. I run away from conflict. I avoid confrontation.

This is a difficult weekend to avoid controversy.

A few days ago, a man of faith, who also happens to be a TV personality, was asked a few questions about his beliefs. I wonder if he felt like he was being set up? The whole thing reminds me of the way that the Pharisees questioned Jesus in order to trap him. The celebrity answered honestly, as he felt Jesus would have wanted him to. And wham, bam, his show was pulled and a well-known family style restaurant pulled all his merchandise.

And the lines have been drawn and people have polarized. Boycotts are planned. Nasty, derogatory comments are being made by both sides of the issue.

It makes me wonder how much of this is pleasing to God? Is he getting any glory out of our pettiness? People who might have been on the edge of faith are repulsed by behavior that should woo them not make them walk away.

But there is the point…when did it happen that I can’t express my faith without fear of offense?

Perhaps that’s the problem…we fear offense.

Go back and read the Christmas story. Read the gospels. Pay attention to Jesus’ words.

He was an equal opportunity offender.

I want to say that Jesus wasn’t intentionally offensive. I’ve tried to write the thought several ways, but I don’t believe it.

Jesus didn’t come to make the people of his day, or ours, comfortable. He stirs things up. He made radical comments and shed all kinds of new light on tightly held traditions. He ate with the wrong people. He traveled the wrong roads. He challenged authority. Controversy, confrontation, conflict seemed to follow him wherever he went.

And it got him killed. But not just him. His cousin John could easily speak to this, if he hadn’t lost his head. He was asked what he thought about the King’s questionable marriage situation and he paid the ultimate price–he gave his life.

No wonder we shy away. Bite our tongues. Swallow our faith.

So Mr. TV personality lost his show. It happens. I know a teacher who lost his job because he always put his Bible on his desk. He kept true to his faith…and fortunately another job came his way.

Maybe that TV show ran its course. Did what it was supposed to do. And maybe God has something else for this family to be doing. Should we boycott that too?

We don’t understand persecution for our faith the way that some do in other parts of the world. Or in times gone by. Jesus seems to want us to be more aware. He actually tells his followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).” Peter went on to write: 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:12-17)

Jesus’ birth was extremely controversial. Consider that the announcement came to shepherds, not the King.

We don’t have to go looking for conflict. It will find us. Sometimes it’s a set up. But however we encounter it. I pray that we faithfully face it and make sure we do all we can to speak the truth in love and glorify the one who is the foundation of what we believe.

Advent 6: Now That We’re Listening

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t break through the clouds with an angel chorus to get our attention with what he needs to say?

How cool is it that Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, and the Shepherds all got a direct and very specific message from God?!

But why not me God?

I mean, how much heartache, seemingly wasted time, problems, pain, and suffering could be avoided if instead “guessing” what it might be that God wants us to do, we had explicit direction.

I think it might be linked to that angel thing. Stay with me on this.

Every time an angel brought a message, the first thing they had to do was tell the recipient to not be afraid. Angels must not be those cutesy things we hang on our walls or put on our cards at Christmas. They must be scarey. It cold be their appearance–if you read about them in Isaiah, this makes sense. But it could also be that when angels brought a message from God, the people knew that something was going to be required of them. Life was going to change. And we all know how much we like that!

So we’ve made a pact to listen more this Advent season. Listen, believing that God has something to say. But how might he do it?

Hebrews 13:2 may give us some help with this. The writer admonishes us to offer hospitality to strangers because we never know when we might be welcoming an angel without knowing it.

Now those “strangers” may not knock on our door. They may be ringing the Salvation Army bell. They might be standing in the line in front of us at Walmart or the grocery. Perhaps they will sit next to us at church or the table near us at Denny’s. If we have our “God ears” (a concept developed by my friend Ginger Harrington–look up her stuff it’s really good!) we might just hear a word from God.

No fanfare or sparkly choir needed. Just open hears and an open heart. God has something to say–don’t miss it because it comes dressed as a stranger.

Advent 3: Willing

When I think of Mary and Joseph I am struck by their willingness to participate in God’s drama as it unfolded.

First, consider Joseph. In Matthew’s account, Joseph nearly steps out of the story. From a cultural perspective, he was well within his rights to do so. To chose not to would go against everything that was expected of him. But God sends an angel and we read in Matthew 1:24 how Joseph awoke and obeyed what the angel commanded.

He didn’t have to, but he was willing.

Then we have Mary. A young girl. Betrothed. An angel appears to her and tells her what is about to happen. We’re told that Mary was troubled by the very presence and greeting of the angel. The angel tells her not to be afraid and then gives her the plan.

What amazes me is that she doesn’t even question him. Her response: I’m your servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

What is God asking of you? Does it seem too big? Are you frightened of the consequences? Does it fly in the face of convention and expectation? If so, you are in good company.

What he did for Mary and Joseph, he will do for: he will be with you every step of the way!

An old saying that has proven true in my own life seems to fit here: God’s will won’t take you where his grace can’t keep you.

Are you willing?