Don’t Fear

I was reading in Luke this morning, specifically chapter 21. Jesus had just finished describing the chaos and the fear and the uncertainty of the end times and then He said something that caught my attention. Luke 21:28 states it thus:

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Straighten up and raise your heads. Don’t be afraid. Take these fearful signs and acts of violence and confusion as a sign to be even more bold. At a time when everyone around us is running and hiding away, we’re to stand up straight in anticipation of the joy and the hope that will soon be fulfilled.

I think the concept applies not just to the end times. It applies to the present. Today, when we’re facing an unappetizing presidential election, when we’re bombarded with story after story of atrocious acts of violence and cruelty, when the world is reeling in confusion because it cannot define right from wrong, when the media spouts out scandals and conspiracies, I’m reminded of Isaiah 8:12-13:

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.

The Lord knows the intents of the hearts of men better than any of us, and He is in control of the future, conspiracies or no conspiracies. Our hope has never been in perfecting our country or our world. Our hope is not even in peace. Our hope is not in personal comfort. David wrote in Psalm 23:4,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evilfor You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Our hope is founded in, and comes from, the God who walks with us. He is the God who knows what is going on in the world and who is working all things toward their final climax, in which He will once and for all gain the victory over the enemy, over death, over pain, over sickness, over every evil and wretched thing. Why should we fear because of what is going around us? Even if we face persecution and death in the near future, why should we fear? They cannot touch our souls. They cannot steal the joy that only comes from the God who created us and who holds us in the palm of His hand. They can take every personal freedom, privilege, and right; they can even take our lives; but they can never take away our inheritance in the kingdom to come.

What then should our response be to the chaos around us?  I’ll end with Philippians 1:27-28 which sums it up pretty well:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

Let our boldness be the sign to the world of our salvation. Perhaps by our example according to Christ’s power, they will see and come to know that He is the true King over all.

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Stress or Joy

Well, here we are, 19 days until (Lord willing) I move on-campus. I can not believe how fast the summer has gone! Time is only speeding up from here, and there are yet decisions pressuring me. I don’t know what to do. I’m still waiting on God to provide for me, and I don’t know how long He is going to have me wait, which makes it harder to make said decisions. I’m trying to juggle multitudes of time-consuming activities and I’m pretty sure I’m dropping most of them. By now, according to human understanding, I should be freaking out and stressing pretty seriously.

And I have been somewhat. If God doesn’t provide I have no Plan B. I seriously do not know where the last $7,000 is going to come from, even if (as is planned) I do get a job up there. I have no idea how I’m going to balance my schedule once school starts. I don’t know what all I need. And I’m scared that I won’t be up to “extroverting” and so I will be unnoticed and lonely.

When I focus on those things the old depression creeps up and I feel defeated and exhausted. The joy that I know I have in Christ is nowhere to be seen at the moment, and I worry. Maybe that’s because joy and stress can’t coexist in the same human being. If you’re really trusting God for your joy, can you be stressed out at the same time? And if you’re stressing out, can you really trust God for your joy?

So I keep going back to trusting. I’ve been reading George Muller’s autobiography (highly recommend it to literally EVERYBODY) and that has been an incredible encouragement and reminder to look to God for all my needs to be met. And you know? He has been meeting my needs! Friends have (unasked) offered me various items/furnishings, the Lord increased one of my grants by $500, and a myriad of small miracles along the way that point toward His will taking me to Sterling College. If it is His will, and if He has brought me so faithfully thus far, you cannot tell me that He will stop before He has finished what He started. And in that knowledge, I can give Him my stress and take in return His joy to sustain me through these last crazy days of preparation.

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All the Way

I’ve had so many ups and downs in this crazy journey to find the money to make college possible! God has brought me a long way, and I have roughly two-thirds of what I need to pay my expenses…but recently, as the weeks have flown by and August 20 suddenly tells me it’s not very far away at all, that last third has begun to frighten me. I keep remembering a quote by Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love:

“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

This whole process has been one of trust, every step of the way, from wondering if college was worth the time and money, to visiting the campus, to enrolling and picking a dorm. I feel confident that this is where God wants me to go, and I feel sure that He will both use me in this new adventure and grow me to a depth I have not yet known. I also believe that debt is not part of His will for mankind, and if He wants me to study at a college He will provide a way.

Yet, the enemy knows I’m susceptible to fear and doubt, and he has made sure to leverage it. The past couple days have been ones of battle against his lies and my own human fears. If God does not provide the last $9-10,000, I really will be in a bind because I have no Plan B. I have no regular income (occasional housecleaning, etc.) at the moment, most of my savings from the jobs God gave me this spring are gone, and it would be difficult (emotionally if nothing else) to withdraw from the school now that I’ve come this far. I’ve committed myself in the trust that God would provide what I need.

When in doubt, count God’s past faithfulness. He used a friend to point out a cheaper phone plan that will work with the phone I already own. He provided an endowment scholarship I could not have found on my own. He is slowly healing my lagging energy levels, and giving me an enthusiasm that a year ago I might not have believed was possible. He has opened the doors one at a time, providing for my needs every step of the way. The God who has brought me this far will take me all the way. I’m thankful for a God who provides for His children. 🙂

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Jumping In

The little girl clung to the railing as she pulled one little foot up and hauled herself to the top. She scooted to the end of the board, one finger between her teeth, and hazarded a glance down over the edge. Daddy reached his hands up to her from the water below.

“It’s okay, baby; I’ll catch you!”

The water looked deep. Even Daddy couldn’t reach the bottom. It was such a long way down! She screwed her eyes shut as her lower lip began to quaver.

“I’m scared!” she wailed.

“I’ll catch you, I promise. It’s okay, baby; you can do it!”

She peeked over the edge again. Daddy was very strong and he always took good care of her. She bit her lip and inched closer to the edge. Daddy wasn’t scared of the water. Before she could change her mind, she sucked in a deep breath and plunged over the edge. Her heart leaped into her throat with a little squeal as she fell and ended with a splash as she landed in her daddy’s arms. The water got all in her eyes and nose and she coughed.

“Are you okay?” Daddy asked. After a minute she looked up into his face. Her eyes shone. 

“Daddy, can we do it again?”

 

I mentioned last time about how God’s been leading me to give more than I’m comfortable with. He’s continued to challenge me more through this week, reminding me about my prayers not to let my tight financial situation make me stingy, and asking me if I trust Him enough to give even more yet. I feel just like the little girl on the diving board, looking over the edge, not sure what will happen when I hit the water. But I know that my heavenly Daddy is waiting for me, and He always catches me. As I jump into His arms, I’m reminded that living in obedience is, yet again, the most exhilarating thing. And when the terror of the moment subsides, I find that it was actually quite fun.

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Where He’s Been Working

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I apologize. I’ve bounced from busy-gone to no-internet and back again, and the blog sort of slipped by the wayside. In spite of neglecting to post, I have, praise God, not been neglecting spending sweet time with Him, so I wanted to share a few of the things that He’s been working in my life.

Prayer – At first I was mostly praying for STEP, my beloved camp that I love above all others and most want to be involved in each year. As the month has gone on I’ve begun to pray about other things, and, sometimes, just spent time thanking God for the ridiculous heap of blessings He pours on me, and us as a family. As I’ve been praying I’ve seen several meaningful answers, often quicker than I expected. It’s truly awe-some, in the true sense of the word. I can’t think of any better way to experience God’s love than by just sitting and thanking Him for every insignificant little thing I can think of that He’s given.

Joy – Tied into the previous one, through everything that’s been happening God has slowly given me a joy in the midst of the disappointment I felt when I learned I would be staying home this summer. I’ve come to a point where, even though I don’t particularly know why God wanted me to stay home or what will come of it in the long run, I’m glad to be here.

Risk – God has been challenging me to step out on a limb and do things that I’m not at all comfortable doing – like signing up to teach 5th and 6th grade kids in VBS later this summer, or giving way beyond what my brain says I’m financially capable of. Which leads me to my next one…

Giving – God has been working in me a desire to give more. And not just money, but other things, like donating hair to Wigs for Kids, and *gulp* hopefully donating blood at some point this summer  (despite the fact I have no love for needles). Jesus spent His life above and beyond what He “needed” to while on Earth, day in and day out, and as I see how much He continues to spend Himself in blessing me, I want to do the same for others.

Release – Throughout the course of spending time with Him and working through disappointments and daily needs, I’m slowly coming to a greater surrender of my power over the future. I find myself asking God to work things in such a way that I have no power over the outcome, and thus cannot take any of the credit for them. That’s something new, because I like to have some measure of control, and I’m grateful to see that God is slowly remodeling me to allow Him to work more fully through me.

God is good, all the time. His blessings are beyond comprehension, and I’m so grateful to have an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving God who cares about every infinitesimal detail about my life!

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When God Says No

What do you do when God closes the door on the thing you most felt called to do? The thing that made you think, “Yes! This is what I’m made for!” I had great hopes to go back to Texas and serve at STEP (Skills Training for Emergency Preparedness – you know, the place I would disappear to and not post for weeks) again this year, but it was apparently not God’s will and He shut the way. I’ll be honest – it stung, and bad. I cried off and on all day when I heard that I wouldn’t be going. I find myself dreading the fact He might be taking STEP out of my life for good.

It makes me question. Did I go wrong somewhere? Did I put STEP higher than God? I know (and I’m not proud of this) I put it above my family this year. Am I still too immature to be entrusted with a position on staff? Is this a consequence for something I did, or is it a “No, I have something better in mind” moment?

But here’s the truth I have to swallow: regardless of how many questions I have for God, He does not owe me an answer to a single one of them. Nor is He required to take me where I want to go. And though the truth may seem harsh, at the same time I have His full assurance that He loves me and He knows what’s best.

So the only real question that needs asking is this: If God takes away the most meaningful ministry I’ve ever been involved in, can I be content to serve Him somewhere else? Do I trust Him enough to let go of the place and people I so love working with and be okay if He never puts it back in my hands?

Once again, it really boils down to surrender. I may be convinced that serving at STEP fulfills my role here on earth, but if I can’t surrender it completely to God to do with as He sees fit then I’ve no business being down there at all. So maybe God said “no” in order to humble me. It doesn’t matter how much I feel called to do something if He chooses not to give His permission and shuts the door against my prying knocking. Am I willing to give Him that right to do or deny my desires as He sees fit?

In the long run, whether or not I ever get to go back and serve in the future is irrelevant. What matters is what I do instead of STEP this year. I don’t know what that will look like in detail yet, but here are some good starters:

  • Seek God and keep Him first – Getting up early to spend quality time in His presence, keeping scripture-reading and prayer in balance so I don’t neglect one or the other. Earnestly seeking God’s will and submitting to Him daily.
  • Right the areas of my life where I’m at fault – Prioritizing investing in my family and the friends God has blessed me with here at home instead of letting them fall by the wayside. Examining myself to see where else I may have gone wrong and confessing and dealing with it.
  • Strive for, and pray for, maturity – Targeting the weaknesses in my character that I’ve allowed to run rampant (laziness, etc.), and with God’s help taking steps to overcome them and build stronger character.
  • Encourage others – Writing notes and building people up at home just like I would be doing if I was at STEP. After all, it’s needed everywhere in this world, not just at rather intense four-week-long programs. Doing what was the biggest joy-giver and fulfiller while I was at STEP last year anyways.
  • Enjoy where I am – Appreciating the joys of home instead of wishing I was somewhere else. So really, contentment. After all, it’s not like my life has no purpose without STEP.

I hope that’s an encouragement if you’re facing a closed door in your own life. Don’t forget that “in His presence is fullness of joy” and seeking God as often and as long as possible is a wonderful way to find comfort in the face of heavy disappointments.

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Thanks

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

This past while as I’ve been pondering the topic of joy and simultaneously pouring out my chaotic thoughts to God I discovered an important part of prayer that has become essential to my own joy. Thanksgiving. You see, when I come before Him with a heavy heart and lay at His feet all that I’m confused about and waiting on and needing answers to and neglect to thank Him for what He’s already doing and what I know He will continue to do, I stay anxious and troubled when I come away.

I think the Psalmists knew about it too. How many of the psalms begin heavy-hearted and then halfway through they turn around and begin recounting God’s goodness and end in hope!

So that is my challenge to myself and to you. As you wait on God’s provision and His direction and His strength, remember to lay your burdens at His feet – but do it with a thankful heart. You might be surprised the difference it makes. 🙂

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In Your Presence

I’ve been reading from “If” by Amy Carmichael off and on recently. It is a convicting little book! There have been several sections that stomped my toes, but one in particular sticks with me. On page 35 Amy writes,

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

And then as a sort of footnote she adds,

For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.

What is my cup filled with? As I go along my way and something jolts me, do I only spill sweet water?

Sadly, no. If I’m out of my “normal” territory I’m usually more careful; but at home where I’m comfortable? Specifically in the arena of interruptions to my stuff, I can be impatient, even irritable, and brush Matthias (the most likely person to interrupt me) off quickly in order to go back to my own thing. And I don’t like that. I don’t want that to be who I am.

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more that I am not the person I’d hoped I would be by now, and crying out to God to change that. I’ve tried to reform myself and it’s never very effective – and besides, I don’t want to have to mentally imprison myself just to make myself behave. (If you’ve been where I’m at, you know exactly what I mean by that.)

As I was asking God for patience it finally occurred to me – duh, patience is a fruit of the Spirit! My problem isn’t just a lack of patience. My problem is a lack of abiding in the Spirit who manifests Himself in my life through patience, love, joy, etc.

It’s not that I have been skipping time with God altogether, but I haven’t given it as much priority as I should. It started with (probably) depression-induced exhaustion leading me to stop getting up early. I couldn’t (I thought) drag myself out of bed at 5 or even 6:30 anymore. I just needed a little more sleep. I’ve taken up reading my Bible at seven, or after my day has already started, maybe for an hour or so – instead of first thing in the quiet of the dawn/pre-dawn hours. By then my mind has already been over a thousand topics and Matthias is up and about and liable to burst in and want to talk or play in my room. I either have to interrupt my time with God or chase him out, and neither option feels good.

I realize now that the problem isn’t my brother being too free with when he comes into my room (he needs to feel welcomed and loved) – the problem is I gave up taking the time before he’s awake like I used to. So, while I still enjoy my time in God’s presence, it’s not as deep and long as I wish it were, and my ability to focus is impaired.

Clearly I need to make the effort to abide more deeply in God, but on my recent lazy schedule it simply won’t work well. I can’t change Matthias’ needs for attention and love. What I can do is order my day so that his regular needs do not clash with the most important relationship in my life. So last night I set my alarm for 5 AM and when it went off I rolled out of bed despite my body’s complaints. Once I got up I actually didn’t feel too tired. (Ha, and the circles under my eyes were less obvious than usual, ironically enough. Maybe I’ve been sleeping too much.) So, I might lose sleep in the long run. Sometimes I have a hard time going to sleep right away. But having to go to bed early is a small price to pay for deeper intimacy with the great Creator of all things, and it’s spending time in His presence and letting His Spirit fill me that will change who I am.

 

Here’s to many more precious early mornings, and I hope you’ll all forgive me if I decide to start going to bed at 8:30.

 

(My song for the day)

Down at Your feet, Oh Lord, is the most high place;
in Your presence, Lord, I seek Your face, I seek your face.

There is no higher calling, no greater honor
than to bow and kneel before Your throne.
I’m amazed at Your glory, embraced by Your mercy,
Oh Lord, I live to worship You.

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Not My Will

I hate waiting. You’d think by now I would have gotten a little better at it by now, but I’m just as terrible at it as I ever was. The longer I have to wait for something the antsier I get, and I’m currently in the antsy stage as I wait to find out if I’m going to spend half a summer sweating in Texas again or not. (Not to mention I’m waiting to hear back about scholarships.)

I had to get outside in the gray, almost-raining weather the other day, and as I sat under the trees and thought about STEP (the camp in Texas as referenced above) and the people I love and miss and long to work with again, a phrase popped into my mind.

Not my will, but Yours be done.

Ha, almost Biblical, right?

I can fret and twiddle my thumbs and check my email ten times a day (more like twenty) but at the end of the day I can’t make things happen one way or another. And you know? If He says no and changes my plans, I want to be willing and ready to go with it wholeheartedly.

It’s a daily battle, surrendering my hopes and plans. Sometimes multiple times daily, actually. I wish I could master it once and for all but at the end of the day it keeps me coming back to Him. Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done. Keep me focused on You, keep me content with You. Use me.

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Choice in Weakness

I was driving pretty late in the day (9 o’clock is late to me, yes) and was listening to the radio like I always do to keep my brain alert. I switched frequencies just in time to catch the tail end of a song and as the music was fading a little child was recited Isaiah 40:28-31, one of my very favorite Bible passages. I did a double-take, because that was the second time recently that I had caught just the verse part of the song, so I listened carefully.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and grow weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

If you read the whole chapter, it’s all about the utter magnitude of God. Then it sort of switches gears. Instead of focusing on the mounting up like eagles part, this time around I noticed something different: there’s a lesson here about weakness.

First we have the reminder that God’s strength is unending, and His wisdom without limit. He is the one with the ultimate power and strength and wisdom. And who does He grant that strength to? The one who is faint; the one who has reached the end of his own capabilities. Why? A friend once told me that sometimes we have to be empty of ourselves in order for God to fill us, which reminds me of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Weakness is universal, and contrary to our opinion, it’s perfectly natural and acceptable – even desirable – to be weak. Isaiah 40:30 says that even youths grow weary and young men fall exhausted. Translation: no one, even those in the prime of life with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth, has the strength to make it. We’re all unavoidably weak. It’s not a question of if we will get to the end of ourselves, but a question of when.

So here’s the thing – weakness is inherently neither a blessing nor a curse. We get to choose what we do with it – and what we do with it determines whether it becomes blessing or curse. Let me give an example. Throughout my struggles with insecurity, inadequacy, ineptitude, and a generally clumsy view of myself, I knew I was weak. My understanding of my inability was all too clear, but it did not lead me to trust God for His strength instead. It lead me to depression and a nagging despair of ever being able to do anything right. On the other hand, Paul gladly welcomed his weaknesses, because they kept him relying on God’s power day in and day out. Paul is an example of one who “waited on the Lord” and “mounted up with wings like eagles” as a result. He allowed his weakness to cause him to trust God to come through.

It’s like a little girl trying to tie her shoe. You know she doesn’t know how to do it, but you can’t help her unless she chooses to let you help her. As long as she stubbornly pushes your hand away, you have to just watch her make a hopeless knot of the laces. When she realizes she can’t do it, she can pout and throw the shoe away in anger or disgust, or she can turn to you and ask for help.

The thought I want to leave you with is this: There’s no shame in being weak – but the question is, are you throwing the shoe away and having a pity party, or are you choosing to make it a blessing by running back to God for His strength?

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