Flabby Faith in God’s Gym

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you.

So we will never fear
even if every structure of support were to crumble away.

We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes,
moving mountains and casting them into the sea.

For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves
cannot erode our faith in you. “

(Psalm 46: 1-3 TPT)

Recently while I was on a Zoom call with friends who were checking on each others welfare, one said, “I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for my own flabby faith. I need to exercise it.” I knew she was right.

Faith is taking the risk of trust. When we sow seeds of fear, we reap a harvest of distrust. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant barrage of fear-inducing reports like the ones that saturate the atmosphere right now. So many of us raised with the fear of a punishing God are triggered by this negativity. We need to get to know in an experiential way who God really is and take steps toward trust.

I watched a lad sit perfectly still for hours as he reached his hand out to a wounded. I didn’t see any progress so I left to do something I hoped would be more productive. When I came back later in the day, the little creature was settled in the palm of the boy’s hand. God is like that. He has enormous patience. He is also a great trainer and gives us increasingly greater challenges to grow and strengthen our faith.

I sense we are heading into a time when we will need more than flabby faith. When foundations crumble, we need to be familiar with the Holy Spirit’s still small voice and the safety of the hand of our Creator. It starts with one step and grows in strength through exercise until deeper experience of His love conquers all fear.

Stability in Changing Times

He will be your constant source of stability in changing times,

    and out of his abundant love he gives you

    the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.

    Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure!

Isaiah 36:3 TPT

I’ve been in a court room more than once. The first time I heard, “All rise,” I was performing my civic duty on a jury. The judge frequently asked us to leave the room as discussions continued over whether or not we should hear a particular piece of evidence. We may have been charged with bringing a verdict, but he was clearly the no-nonsense authority in that room.

The second time I appeared in court was as a witness. I felt with uncomfortable nervousness the weight of responsibility. I wanted to give details clearly and honestly. I also wanted to be understood for the sake of the victims’ future. I wasn’t sure the judge would listen or take me seriously. He did.

The third time in court, I watched someone I loved being falsely accused by the defense team. I watched some of the witnesses stumble over details as the accused’s lawyers expertly tripped them up in cross-examination. I had to sit still while defense witnesses outright lied. I was terribly anxious and upset. I worried the judge would believe them, but he saw through the falsehoods. He made sure the victims were heard and protected from further harm.

The last time I was in court I was the accused. I did it — or rather didn’t do it, which is what landed me there. Somehow we either missed or didn’t receive the usual notice from the car insurance company that our renewal was due. Neither of us noticed until the policeman stopped me on the way home from the grocery store and pointed to the license plate sticker which had expired a couple of days before. I received a ticket with an eye-watering fine and ended up in traffic court. I was honest. I was polite. I admitted fault –and I was scared spitless. I gave my side of the story about not receiving notice and hoped for leniency… and then I paid the hefty fine.

Why am I telling you this? I have been trying for many years to understand what “the fear of the Lord” means. I was raised in an environment where God was presented as someone to be afraid of more than someone who loved me. I lost many years trying to appease a judge I was afraid didn’t understand, and who cared only for his own ego. While He demonstrated his sacrificial love for me and I learned I didn’t need to distrust the power of someone who wanted nothing less than an unhindered relationship and the absolute best for me, I still had trouble understanding why the Bible tells us to “fear not” and “fear the Lord” at the same time.

Looking back, I can see that each of the judges I met in court seemed scary to me because of the power they held. Fortunately, in my experience, they all acted fairly and in the best interest of society, including the one who found me guilty of neglecting my responsibility to buy car insurance on time. Not all judges are corruption free, but the God of love and the Creator of the universe who has perfect understanding of how he made everything to run is without fault.

The Triune God can say with both love and justice, “No. You may not abuse the earth, other people, or even yourself. You disrespect me when you do that.” He is merciful, but his love is not the same as indulgence. His grace empowers us to be all he intended. He sees the big picture that spans time and space in a way we cannot comprehend. He is the ultimate authority on all things.

The difference between God’s wisdom and a human’s best understanding can be greater than the difference between a tin shack and a solid mountain. Who do we trust more to be the source of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

This caused me to think about who I have placed in positions over God as the ultimate authority in my life. I co-operate with and pray for bosses, church leaders, government authorities, and yes, even my spouse, for the sake of smooth sailing in society even when I may disagree on the best route to an agreed destination — unless they try to usurp God’s throne.

We have all trusted institutions which turned out later to not be exactly trustworthy. It can be a rattling experience when the foundations shake. I suspect we are about to see more shaking. Alas, some people who crave power are more enamored with self-aggrandizement than responsibility for the well-being of their charges. In the end there is only One who is the totally trustworthy bastion of both love and justice, only One who is our constant source of stability in changing times. Out of his abundant love he gives us the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. His beloved children receive the right to boldly approach his throne and ask for them.

Do Not Yield to Fear

Do not yield to fear, for I am always near.
    Never turn your gaze from me, for I am your faithful God.
    I will infuse you with my strength
    and help you in every situation.
    I will hold you firmly with my victorious right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10 TPT)

To yield is to surrender, to capitulate, defer, relent, submit. To yield is to admit inferior strength.

Is fear something we are helpless to resist when it darkens our path?

Is fear a failure to keep our eyes on the One who is our strength in weakness?

Is there a better choice?

Struggling Against the Wind

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Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves.

About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 

Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

(Mark 6:47-56 NLT)

The disciples were in a storm struggling against the wind and waves. Everything in their evidence-based experience told them this was bad. Very bad.

Jesus saw their struggle.

If this pandemic experience had happened earlier in my life I would probably have felt overwhelmed with anxiety. It’s a sign of how much the Lord has healed my heart that even though I am in the high risk for complications category in several ways should I come into contact with the virus, I have more peace now than I’ve ever had before.

Like the disciples in the boat, my experience tells me this is bad. But unlike the disciples at that time, my heart has been softened by seeing Jesus do the unexpected. Sometimes the scary ‘what-ifs’ break through, but most of the time I can trust that no matter what, God still loves me and still loves and cares for the people I love.

I had no grid for God’s intervention back in the years of anxiety and depression. I struggled against the wind, but all I saw was the waves. Like Jesus’ friends, I interpreted anything supernatural as something even scarier than the storm.

Jesus didn’t shame them for what they felt. He responded to their cries. “I’m here!”

He had compassion and showed them what it was like to be at peace. He demonstrated authority over not only  chaos in the physical atmosphere, but in the spiritual atmosphere as well. He put himself in the same position they were in and the wind stopped.

During a time of turbulent emotions stirred up by fear and illness, I painted a prayer of wanting to see Jesus in the emotional storm that raged around my heart. I had almost forgotten about it until I read this story in Mark today.

In a dream this week, I waited and waited in a church hoping for an encounter with God. When I could no longer stay because the last person turned off the lights and indicated he wanted to lock up, I went out into the dark rainy night. To my surprise, Jesus was waiting in the parking lot for me. When he touched my hand all fear was gone.

He wasn’t in the decently-and-in-order building with its platform and neat rows of seats. He was outside in the storm.

Perhaps that is where he is waiting for you.

 

 

I’ve Seen This Before

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Lord Yahweh, you are my glorious God! I will exalt you and praise your name forever, for you have done so many wonderful things. Well-thought-out plans you formed in ages past; you’ve been faithful and true to fulfill them all!

(Isaiah 25:1 TPT)

When I’m tempted to agree with the fear broadcasts in the atmosphere all around me, I take time to remember how God got me through the last crisis, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that…

Lord, you’ve been so good to me. Thank you. I will praise you and never forget your goodness in times of trouble. I trust you.

Grace’s Baby

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It was the same sermon we heard this preacher deliver many times in the five or so years we sat in rows of hastily assembled chairs as he expounded from the pulpit. The illustrations varied from week to week, but the theme seldom did.

“Okay. Got it. Can we move on now?” my friend mumbled over her coffee later. “I think the man has issues.”

The man had issues. But here’s the thing: we all have issues. If you read or follow the same person for any length of time you will probably sense a theme. If the theme is one that prompts you to say, “Good grief. What’s your problem?” you either move on or, if a sense of duty keeps you entering the same doors week after week, volunteer in the nursery, or spend sermon time counting the offering, or  make coffee or something.

If the theme aligns with your own familiar issues, and if you hear God’s voice in another person’s words or actions, you listen, ponder, and engage. And ask more questions. I appreciate people who share what they have learned, but I know the really helpful concepts come out of their weakness, not their expertise, because the struggle is real.

If you read through the stories of people who have wrestled with God, you will notice he chooses people with issues. Answers floating around in the air only gain value when they attach themselves to questions.

The answer my questions have latched onto is grace. The twin enemies that have dogged my steps since childhood are fear and despair — fear of rejection and despair because I’ll never be good enough. They tell me I’m only as good as my last performance, which was, again, disappointing.

I have learned and I am learning. I have learned to apply the grace freely poured on me by the Giver of grace. I am still learning, because fear and despair still poke their ugly noses into my life when challenging circumstances show up. The Lord reminds me there is yet more empowering grace to experience.

For a long time, I mistook mercy for grace. I thought grace was a free get-out-of-jail card – unmerited favour. That’s mercy — and mercy is absolutely great. But grace goes beyond mercy to empower us to become the person God sees when he looks at us in Christ. He sees our true identity.

Sometimes I forget who he says I am. I see something else. I asked him to show me again.

I had a dream. A man who reminded me of Jesus was driving me around a neighbourhood similar to my childhood street. He stopped in front of a house and told me to knock on the door because someone in there was anxious to meet me. I did so reluctantly, because, well, I was afraid. The person who met me was excited. Apparently this was the home of my birth mother. Now I heard my own mother complain about my birth enough times to know I was not adopted in real life, but in the dream it seemed plausible.

A small older woman entered the room supported by several friends. Her name was Grace. Just like in the TV shows about reunions, she held me and wept with relief and affection. Then she and her friends brought me gifts. These were gifts she collected for me since birth. Since I have reached retirement age in real life, the number of wrapped presents was overwhelming.

I noticed a name tag on all of them. It said “Ashira.” I had never heard this name before. Grace said it was the name she gave me at birth. My “driver” stood in the doorway, smiling. I woke.

I searched the name Ashira. I found it on one of those baby name sites. It means “she who sings.” Then I realized the dream was telling me I was a child of grace and now a recipient of the gifts of grace. Nice.

A few minutes after I told my husband I felt curious about the dream, people arrived for the Bible study he leads, we read a passage in Galatians 4. This chapter is about freedom from performance-based religiosity. Paul includes an allegory (I love allegories.)

Abraham and Sarah were promised a child. When no child was conceived they tried to make it happen their own way using Sarah’s slave. That didn’t turn out so well for any of them. Eventually, miraculously, supernaturally, a child was born to Sarah. He was the child of promise, not slavery, not self-effort that thinks the end justifies the means.

This is the passage in The Passion Translation that stood out to me:

These two women and their sons express an allegory and become symbols of two covenants. The first covenant was born on Mt. Sinai, birthing children into slavery—children born to Hagar. For “Hagar” represents the law given at Mt. Sinai in Arabia. The “Hagar” metaphor corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem of today who are currently in bondage.
In contrast, there is a heavenly Jerusalem above us, which is our true “mother.” She is the freewoman, birthing children into freedom!” 

My dream! I met my “true mother.” She had gifts for me. Verse 28:

“Dear friends, just like Isaac, we’re now the true children who inherit the kingdom promises.”

I asked, “Lord, who am I?” He answered. I am a child of the free woman, the child of grace.

Verse 31: “It’s now so obvious! We’re not the children of the slave woman; we’re the supernatural sons of the freewoman—sons of grace!”

Oh, and Ashira? She who sings? I’ve learn that for me, the best way to defeat fear and despair is by singing about the goodness of God. He’s reminding me my weapon is a melody. My chosen pen name means Grace Song. I was a singer most of my life and now I use my “voice” here and other places to communicate this theme: God’s grace is sufficient. He loves people with issues, because His power is perfected in weakness.

Who do you think you are? Who does God know you are? Do the identities match? Ask him.

 

 

Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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Bloom Anyway

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Looking back, I am unimpressed with the amount of time I spent trying to impress people who didn’t impress me. Sometimes you just need to bloom where you are planted while the storm rages.

It always blows over eventually.

People who manipulate with fear and intimidation are often fearful and intimidated themselves.

Confident peace is a weapon they don’t understand. It frustrates them.

Bloom anyway.

Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back.
But when you place your confidence in the Lord,
you will be seated in the high place.

(Proverbs 29:25 TPT)

Real Time

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It’s 3:30 a.m. Instead of sleeping I am here, on the computer. I’m also eating some ridiculously expensive fat-free, dairy-free strawberry rhubarb ice cream which I stashed in the corner of the freezer for an auspicious occasion.

This is not an auspicious occasion. I can’t get back to sleep after I woke from a nightmare about being sealed in an MRI tube by people who lied to me about how long the procedure would take, and then forgot I was in there.

Fear is custom-designed.

Being stuck in an MRI machine that is several sizes too small happens to be a fear designed for me.  I have a scan scheduled for later this week. It doesn’t help to know doctors are looking for evidence of metastatic cancer in my liver. This is the faith journey in real time.

It would be so easy to say, “I am struggling with fear.” We often hear that expression, but when I hear someone say, “I am struggling with jealousy,” or “I’m struggling with pornography,” I want to respond, “No, you’re not. You are choosing to surrender to obsessive resentful thoughts about your colleague. You are not “struggling.” You are giving in to self-indulgent lustful curiosity via photographic image.”

It’s easy to be smug when other people’s temptations are not tempting to me. But I face my own temptations. The Bible says don’t you go accusing God of tempting you. Temptation only latches on to weird stuff you are already hoarding in the basement of your heart and secretly nurturing with strawberry rhubarb ice cream.

When you are tempted don’t ever say, “God is tempting me,” for God is incapable of being tempted by evil and he is never the source of temptation. Instead it is each person’s own desires and thoughts that drag them into evil and lure them away into darkness. Evil desires give birth to evil actions. And when sin is fully mature it can murder you! So my friends, don’t be fooled by your own desires! (James 1:13-16)

The first step to getting free from “the struggle” is to admit that it is there. The root of my fear is the lie that my heavenly Father is distracted by more attractive, more important, more rewarding relationships with his other children. Sometimes I feed that nasty monster in the basement bits of bitter memories of being forgotten and ignored and misdiagnosed and mistreated before. That’s when the devil and his minions say, “Oh. You’re bitter and scared. We can help you with that.”

The thing is, being mistreated and forgotten was not my heavenly Father’s doing in the first place. That was a result of the brokenness of people with their own ways of coping with pain caused by the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. God was the one has consistently got me through those situations. He’s a good, good father. Jesus came to show us what he was really like – and I can’t imagine Jesus sealing me up in a noisy metal tube and leaving me there.

He delights in us. He wants relationship. Like the Lover in the Song of Songs he invites to come away and walk with him in a flowered spring orchard like the one I saw in the Okanagan this week.

The Bridegroom-King:
Arise, my dearest. Hurry, my darling.
Come away with me!
I have come as you have asked
to draw you to my heart and lead you out.
For now is the time, my beautiful one.

The season has changed,
the bondage of your barren winter has ended,
and the season of hiding is over and gone.
The rains have soaked the earth
and left it bright with blossoming flowers.
The season for singing and pruning the vines has arrived.
I hear the cooing of doves in our land,
filling the air with songs to awaken you
and guide you forth.

Can you not discern this new day of destiny
breaking forth around you?
The early signs of my purposes and plans
are bursting forth.
The budding vines of new life
are now blooming everywhere.
The fragrance of their flowers whispers,
“There is change in the air.”
Arise, my love, my beautiful companion,
and run with me to the higher place.
For now is the time to arise and come away with me.

(Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Okay. I’m putting away the ice cream now and choosing to evict the lie. I choose instead to be thankful for modern medical procedures that can give assurance that liver cells are doing what liver cells were intended to do or can diagnose hidden nastiness before it gets out of hand. I am thanking the Lord for his promise to never leave me and to heal not only my body, but my wounded heart. I’m choosing to give up the struggle and surrender to his love by putting my trembling hand in his big strong hand. He’s got this.

Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also.  – Jesus (John 14:1 TPT)