Friday, October 30, 2009

Stay Near to Him and Be Not Afraid

I have these "freeze frame" moments from time to time when I say something to my children. It feels as if I am in a movie, the reel stops, and God points out to me, "Did you hear that, Andrea? Remember, that's for you, too."

My baby who is six years old (and who is quick to correct me and tell me that she is NOT the baby but the little sister) and I were leaving a local department store. We hustled to the car, trying to not get too wet from the drizzle. As I went to the driver side of the car, she stopped short and went over to the passenger side. I fumbled with the keys to try and get the car open, but the door would not unlock. I called out for her thinking that she was probably getting nervous on the other side of the car.

"Mom!" she shrieked, as she ran around the back of the car, to my side. "I was scared! Why didn't you open the car door?"

I explained to her that the key fob was not working and then I reassured her, in my "freeze frame" moment, "Honey, if you would stay right near me, then you wouldn't need to be afraid."

My daughter wasn't really being terribly rebellious by going over to the other side of the car, although it wasn't the safest choice. I just think she wasn't paying attention.

I can relate to that. Sometimes, I'm just not paying attention. I wander from a conscious awareness of God's protection and love for me and then something comes up, and because I forget, I fear. I then cry out in a panic, "Where are You? What happened? Why didn't You do what I thought You were going to do?"

God talks a lot about our not being afraid in the Bible. I think it is because He knows that we tend to be, whether we like to admit it or not. We can keep on a pretty tough face, but beneath our "Rocky Balboa" exterior is a tendency to slip in to fear.

We fear all sorts of things, inside and out, little things and enormous things. We do all sorts of things to deal with our fears, some of them destructive. We don't really like to fear; we would much rather experience peace, but we forget or we don't know how to. God offers perfect peace, and His name is Jesus. He is our True Love that casts out all fear. He is the solution to the problem.

Psalm 118:6 says, "The Lord is on my side, I am not afraid!" We can confidently claim this to be true, when we are His. However, sometimes we tend to wander, forget and then we fear. Dear reader, if -- when -- you are afraid, feeling like "Where are you? What happened?" call out to Him and allow Him to comfort you and give you strength for that which He has called you to today. If we stay near Him, we need not be afraid.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Road Closed -- Detour

Being a die-hard creature of habit, every day I drive the same way to bring the kids to school. I don’t even think about it. I just travel the same route, on auto-pilot you could say.

Over the past week, I come to the same place and realize again and again, however, that the road is closed. Some sort of construction work is happening down the road. I can just barely see large dirt moving and digging gigantors lumbering back and forth in the distance. The signs are posted: ROAD CLOSED -- DETOUR. I make a sharp turn left, and take the detour route to school. One would think ( I would think) that I would remember, but I don’t. I keep coming up to the signs and then have to go another way. If I only remembered, I could take another way, be more efficient with my trip and avoid the aggravation of having to drive one more time, out of my way.

Life can be this way. We are creatures of habit, and we do tend to go the same way each day. Usually, we choose what we think is the easiest, productive, beneficial way, and yet sometimes, the road is temporarily closed off to us. We realize that we need to take a detour to get to our destination. This can happen in our activities, our circumstances, our projects, our dreams and in our relationships. It’s hard to see past the signs. The temptation is to ignore them and weave through the barriers and try to find our own way through the construction zone, instead of following the detour, but that usually does not turn out too well; we just end up having to turn around and go the other way, anyway.

So it is, dear reader, at times in our relationships and in our circumstances, God puts up “ROAD CLOSED -- DETOUR” signs. It is hard to know why, most of the time. Sometimes (and sometimes not) we can see past the sign, in to the distance, and realize that He is doing some work down the road that needs to be done. Maybe it is work in another person’s life that is essential for their health and healing. Maybe God detours us around our usual path in a circumstance or a project, in order to do some special work that we cannot do, only He can do. Maybe He takes us out of our way to show us a different view on things, in order to enhance our travel down that same road again.

Of course, all things are under the perfect and loving control of God. We try to peer past the signs and get a glimpse of what is happening down the road, but often we really can’t tell. I don’t know why the road is closed off, just that it is, and then we need to trust that whatever is happening it is for our good. Truth is, reality is, sometimes the road is re-opened and sometimes it is not. It can be frustrating, maddening, often saddening, but God is on His throne and He is working all things for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28), not only in our lives, but in the lives of the people around us, and somehow He does this all at one time. Next time I come up to that sign (and I am sure I will), I am going to remember this and trust Him for all the detours in my life.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Refund Desired

This afternoon I sat by my fireplace, wrapped in a blanket, pen and notebook nearby, paging through my bible that has outwardly aged significantly over the last year, as I have; we (my bible, the Lord and I) have been close companions. I was thinking of this place of pain that I have journeyed through, and then I felt the tender touch of God remind me that it is a place of praise.

One year ago today I felt as if I was helicopter lifted in to a remote and foreign territory (much like “Survivor Man”), flat on my back, injured and bruised. There did not seem to be a road, or even a hacked down path, just desolation everywhere. The terrain was rugged. It felt like I hit rock bottom, but I couldn’t be sure. Sharp mountain peaks where in view, everywhere I turned. The temperature changes were extreme. The weather was unpredictable, often windy and rainy, at times contrasted by scorching heat. I landed in the wilderness and I did not know where to go, or what to do. I knew that I could not survive on my own or find my way out. I would need to trust the Hand of the only One who knew the way and knew me.

It’s been an adventure trip; still is. I have whitewater rafted down uncertain, frothy, turbulent waters and crawled through dark, twisting, mysterious caves. I have climbed steep cliffs, with rocky outcroppings that have blocked my vision. It has required heroic levels of faith, but I have learned that only in the strength of the greatest Hero of all time, is it possible to climb at all. I have experienced the fog of fear, often thick and damp, evaporate by the warmth of the Son, only to return in the darkness of the cool night; it then dissipates again with the morning Son. I have traversed tall mountains (not with a single bound) and have seen the glory of the Lord, only to return down the mountainside on my journey, with only a memory of His face. At times, the road has been narrow where I walked heal to toe, one foot in front of the other, and learned what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. I have slipped, fallen and been lifted back up again. I have chosen some wrong ways, but have been reminded of the True way, and then gently led back on course. The Word of God – God Himself – has been my compass and my daily sustenance and nourishment. It is the light that shows me the path. I have not been hungry or thirsty, and whenever I grew weary, He strengthened me as I waited upon Him. He has been my Shelter from every storm, and a place of rest for my soul.

I have not reached my destination yet, but I am learning a lot on this journey. I am not the woman that I was when I landed in the middle of nowhere – which was really somewhere to God. I am stronger and wiser because of this -- because of Him. My burdens feel lighter, as I have learned to place them on the strong and capable shoulders of my Savior. They are still real, but I am learning how to deal with them, differently. I love deeper, better, because I have known His deep, deep love.

I did not sign up for this trip, although, it feels like I have paid for it. At times, I wish it was not my journey, and yet, I do not want a refund. The Lord has revealed to me a lot about myself, but even more about Himself, and that makes the trip worth it. I do not know what He has planned down the path. My eyes remain focused on Him. I do praise Him for all He has done in my life and in the life of my family. He has been faithful, and I am fully confident, will remain so, to guide me and love me along the way. Unfailingly.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sin and the Snake

Caution -- Reader Discretion Advised. The following content may be disturbing, convicting and impact your view on sin and life.

Several years ago, I heard Jill Briscoe tell a story of a man who owned a circus in the 1800’s. His circus was very famous, in particular, for the work he did with snakes. At one point, he held a baby snake in his hand. It stayed there, contentedly slithering between his fingers and resting in his palm. Over time, the snake grew, and the man continued to “work” with it. It had become accustomed to the man who eventually trained it to do a most unusual trick. The man would stand in the middle of the stage and the snake, now a full grown python, would coil itself around the man – around and around, upward and upward until the audience could no longer see the man. People came from all over and they were astonished at what this snake could do.

Crowds of people stood witness to this most extraordinary event, time after time, and the man and his snake were famous for their duet. One day, however, during a performance, a blood-curdling scream rippled across the stage from where the man and the snake stood intertwined. The python constricted itself, breaking the bones of the man and suffocating him. The man died, with the snake wrapped around him from head to toe.

“Sin is like the snake,” Jill Briscoe said. “We play with it, and we play with it and we play with it – until it plays with us.”

I’ve thought a lot about that story. To this very day, when I think of it, my gut is sickened, my heart is convicted and my love of Jesus intensifies.

Our sin may start out small. Alcohol. Drugs. Gossip. Slander. Pride. Selfishness. Lust. Materialism. A critical spirit. Unhealthy people pleasing behavior. Excessive need for approval. Deceitfulness. Whatever it is, we play with it and we play with it. As it grows we may not be aware of the power it is having over us. We think we have control over it and we sorely believe that we have trained it not to hurt us. At some point, though, the sin may begin to coil around us to the point that we are not seen any more, only the sin. It has hidden us from who we are and if it is not taken captive, it may eventually crush us. Suffocate us. Break us and even steal our life from us. It is a chilling reality of the power of sin in our lives.

Proverbs 5:23 says, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.”

But there is hope. We are not left alone to wrestle the beast to the ground and overcome it in our own strength. The good news is that we have a hope in the One who said He would crush the head of the serpent. Choose Jesus. Pursue God and His Word, the Bible, in order to see the sin as it starts and grows. Repent of it; flee from it; run as fast as you can in the other direction.

We play with it, and we play with it and we play with it – until it plays with us. Dear reader, search your heart today and believe in the One who can set you free from the cords of sin. Only in Jesus power is it possible. It is true.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sifting and Sorting

Last night I started a new family tradition – a “Sunday Evening Sock Sorting Party.” (Can one say “tradition” with only doing it once?) We dumped a laundry basket full of unmatched socks in to the middle of the room, sat around it like campers around and a campfire, and got to work. There were lots and lots of socks that were gathered from every corner of the house following a bedroom cleaning bonanza. Big socks. Little socks. Long socks. Short socks. Socks of every color. There were socks with holes, socks that had been chewed on by the dog, and even socks that no longer had a match. (Where do those “other” socks go, by the way?)

We even had cake and ice cream to follow. What’s a party without food? I tried to convince them that some day they would be telling their children and grandchildren about the great “Sock Sorting Party” tradition that I started. They looked at me like I was strange. At least we had fun, and the work got done, and we made a memory. Well, at least I did.

Looking at all those socks made me think, not so much about the party (although I thought it rather clever), but how sometimes life feels like a heap of unmatched socks. It can look like and feel like a mess – sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week, and sometimes much, much longer. There is a lot that needs to be sorted through, we are “out of sorts” and we don’t know what to do.

Let’s face it, we all need help. We need Someone to help us make sense of the messiness, to discern the problem and aid us with a solution. We need Someone in charge, who can help us gather up all the pieces – all shapes and sizes – and bring guidance and understanding to the chaos.

Dear reader, that Someone is the Lord. The socks can’t find their match and order themselves, and nor can I. On those days (or weeks, or months), when all is a mess, I need to try and dump it all out before God, and ask for His assistance. I need him to help me to “sift and sort” and come to an understanding of what is happening and what I need to do. I need discernment and wisdom to handle the mess, and to do so with godliness.

Hosea 14:9 says, “Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them…”

Feeling like your life is a pile of unmatched socks today? Ask the Lord to help you discern and be wise, and then trust that He will give you what you need to get the job done. It may not feel like a party, but there will be some joy in it, as you see Him work in and through you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Love Letter Unaware

I probably saw it hundreds of times (and I am not exaggerating) if not more over the years, in the parking lot where my children attend school. The license plate on the car read “HELVSU.” Clever license plates often draw my attention. This one had me stumped at first. I finally resolved that it must be a city somewhere in Norway, and the people who drove the car must be from Norwegian descent. How wrong I was.

The other day, I picked up the children and as we were heading out of the parking lot my oldest daughter said, “Mom? Do you see that license plate? I think I finally figured it out! It says, “He loves you!” I looked, and there it was, as clear as day. How could I not have seen it? These letters did not reveal a frigid Baltic Sea city but rather a truth from a Holy God. He loves you. My daughter and I had both missed the obvious, right before our eyes, day after day. How surprised we were!

I wonder how many times I miss it – we miss it. God is scripting His love all around us and we don’t even see it, sometimes in the simple things of life, and other times in the complex times of life.

The message of His love is rustling through the leaves. It is splashed in the rain, scribbled on the movement of the clouds and bouncing in the laughter of a child. It is blowing in the flurry of the snow, bursting forth from the ground in the flowers of Spring and swirled in the wind. We experience God's love letter as it overflows in our joy. And the truth is that God's love letter is also present in our pain and is traced in our tears.

God was writing to me a note of encouragement – a love letter – right before my eyes, in a small way but I missed it. Dear reader, look for the message of God’s love that He is sending to you. He may be revealing it to you anywhere, at any time. It may be hard to see, at least it is for me, but He is calling to us and His love is an abundant, unfailing pursuing love. Trust Him. Even in times of great sorrow, confusion, despair or disappointment – His love is present and real. He loves you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Persevering Despite Obstacles

The other day someone close to me asked me, “Do you really believe what you write? Do you really believe that God can and will redeem? Do you really believe that He can take broken pieces and restore them?”

I will admit, at first (and second and third) I was not very pleased with the question. I perceived a challenging tone of voice from the inquirer, and it bothered me. My answer was this. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe what I write. Regrettably, however, I do not always believe it consistently or perfectly. I struggle, too, but I do believe the truths that God has revealed to me.”

Perhaps this persons attempt was not to insult me, but it did make me stop and think – a lot.

You see, dear reader, on this blog and in other venues, my desire is to write and share the truths that God shows me through His wise and precious Word and through the circumstances around me that He has uses to help me visualize the truth. (I am very much a visual learner!) And although I do believe it, unfortunately, I do not always believe it perfectly. I flounder around from time to time. I let the obstacles of doubt and fear and anger and resentment get in the way, but when I see them looming ahead (or in my head) I try to stop, take a deep breath and remember the truth. God’s truth.

I believe the truth because I have lived it and continue to live it out on this journey that God has me on. I know for sure that Jesus is real, for God has taken this truth and hand knit it into the fiber of my being stitch by stitch. It is part of me, and cannot be taken from me.

I wish I believed more consistently and perfectly, but I know that I don’t and that helps to keep me humble and dependent on the Lord. In the meanwhile, I persevere and not give up out of my love for Him. I trust that He will use my perseverance to help me face the obstacles that are in my way and crawl over them, through them and around them. Perseverance strengthens my faith.

In James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking any thing.”

I will not give up believing in God’s truths, and my prayer is that you will not, either. There will be times when our faith is tested, either by circumstances or by people. Do not be frustrated when you do not do it “perfectly” but rather persevere and run the race, overcoming the obstacles and growing in your faith.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

God Can Use Our Brokenness

Perhaps it is the autumn soups, stews and breads, but I seem to have “bread” on my mind. Quite a few years ago I read words that Elisabeth Elliot heard from a speaker while she was a Wheaton College student (Nov/Dec 2000 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter).

“If your life is broken when given to Jesus, it may be because pieces will feed a
multitude, when a loaf would satisfy only a little lad.”

I’ve been thinking about that little lad, and I’ve been thinking about Jesus. (You can read the account of the interaction in John 6:1-15).The little lad could have kept his bread for himself, and been satisfied, but instead he offered it to Jesus to do with it as Jesus pleased. Was it a suffering? I don’t know -- maybe, maybe not. Maybe he was very hungry, and really wanted it. Maybe his mom needed it. Regardless, Jesus took it, and made it “food” for a multitude. Truth is, He could have fed the multitude out of nothing at all (He had been known to rain down manna and quail, as well as creating the world out of nothing) but He chose to use the offering of a little boy. What a privilege. What a hope.

God can use our lives in the same way. He will take what we give Him, even our sadness, our heartache, and our fears and losses, and transform them to help many. How He does it, I will never know, but I have seen it, and I believe it is true.

Sometimes in our trials we are able to tell of God’s love and faithfulness in ways and with a depth that we would not otherwise have. We can be the hands and feet and words that are a testimony of His power and His grace. I know that in my life, I have needed to see God lived out in the lives of others to help me with my doubt, and the testimony of one who has walked through suffering and trusted God is a powerful one, indeed. These are the people who can speak to our hearts because they have been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt. They are authentic and open.

The suffering of our precious Savior revealed to us the reality of His love for His Father and His love for us. The multitude of souls in this time, still need to be shown that there are those who will, out of their love for the Lord, trust and obey Him in whatever circumstance. It is not an easy job, but God equips and He is the one who does the transformation, making much out of little.

What may God be asking you to present to Him today, dear reader? What is broken in your life that He will use to feed the multitude? You just never know. Trust Him to work His miraculous power in your life, just as He did with what the little lad was willing to place in His hands.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

My youngest daughter is learning the “Lord’s Prayer.” She walks around the house, prompted by her next sister in line, reciting the words to the familiar prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us today our daily bread … (Matthew 6:9-11).

What struck me today is the line “Give us today our daily bread.”

So often, I think of this line as a request to God to (please!) meet my needs. I know that the bread represents the necessities of life, not the luxuries. I try and attempt to honestly discern what the one is from the other. Not always easy, but I do try to do so.

In praying so, I ask the Lord to provide for my physical needs – food, clothing, a shelter to reside in. However, when I think about it, I know that I also have other needs – needs to be strong in the Lord, mighty for battle, filled with grace and filled with the Fruit of the Spirit. These, amongst others -- are my spiritual needs.

What would it look like if we were to pray with our “spiritual needs” in mind? What if we could sincerely say, “Lord, give me, today what I need to grow spiritually? Please give me this bread.” In fact, if we are lovers of the Lord, this is what we do desire – to grow in the love and knowledge of Jesus, and to become more like Him, and (I must admit, I wince here) to do so, no matter the cost.

Perhaps what we need to cultivate and grow our spiritual life is rest (and God will give this when needed), but more likely as the scriptures point out, it is in the trial that we grow.

The bread that we need may be a hard truth to discern, a frustration to be patient with or strife to be at peace with. It may be an opportunity to exercise wisdom, a hardship to endure, a heart ache to relinquish in to the hands of the Lord and thereby learn trust. It may be a betrayal, a disappointment, loneliness or rejection. The bread to nourish our souls may be an incorrigible person that needs to be cared about, an opportunity to learn how to draw a boundary in love, or harsh situation in which to learn gentleness. The bread may be found in opportunities in our churches, our homes, our prisons, our relationships, our loneliness, our anger, our sorrow and our fears.

The bread to nourish may be an unlikely, unwelcome and unappetizing “food” but it is often the thing that makes us grow, when given to us by the hand of God. I guess when I openly stop and think about it, these things are the source of nourishment that the Lord has used (and is using) to grow me day by day. Truthfully, some days I receive them graciously and other days I struggle to choke them down.

Dear reader, look to see what bread the Lord provides for you today to change and cultivate your soul. He will give you just what you need. Be strengthened in this. You are not alone in the process of growth. God is with you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

God's Rescuing, Delivering Love

I woke up this morning with the chains of sorrowful memories tightening around my heart and I felt claustrophobic within the tight place of disgust, disappointment and maybe even, despair.

Anniversaries can be sweet times of remembrance of joyful occasions, but they can also be grief filled times when they mark hard, heart breaking events.

All I could think of this morning was, “I need some time with the Lord, desperately.” I knew that I needed time with Him to remember Who He was, which of course is Who He is, and remember what He has done for me and in me. I needed to be realigned, refocused, and held by Him. And so, this is what I have been doing, reading over my bible, noting the truths in His Word and noting the words that I sketched in the margins of my bible, marking the moments in time when He spoke to me, over the years.

My encouragement to you today is that God is faithful – always faithful. Others will fail you, but God will not. Psalm 37:39-40 says, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them.”

God is our Stronghold – a strongly fortified defensive structure. He is our Helper and our Deliverer. We do not need to feel bound by the chains of past heart ache, for He can and will deliverer us from all that hinders and holds us back from having a full life in Him. He has set an impenetrable fortress around our heart and it is called Love.

So, dear reader, when you feel the tightening grip of difficult memories, run to the One who can free you again and again. In the powerful and all-loving name of Jesus, call out to the Lord, and ask Him to set your heart free. Replace the visual of the claustrophobic chains with the visual of the truth of the Arms of your Rescuing Deliverer. He safely, securely wraps His love around your heart, protecting you, cherishing you, repairing you and redeeming you, for He loves you with an unfailing love.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Please Reassure My Heart, Lord

I suppose the weather being blustery and cold didn’t help. I noticed my eight year old daughter scampering around this morning, both in body and in mind. She wasn’t sure whether she could wear something to school (because of dress code), her notebook needed to be signed, her hair needed to be done, and she hadn’t a chance to eat much. As I was pulling up her hair in to a pony tail, she let out a sigh of exasperation, “I just know this is going to be the worst day ever.”

Shortly thereafter, while everyone else hustled to the car, I noticed her at the pantry door, whimpering.

“What’s wrong, dear?” I said.

“I forgot to pack my lunch and now I’m going to be late!”

I asked her to stop what she was doing and look at my face, as I reassured her. “Oh, honey, try to calm down and take one thing at a time. You are going to be fine. There is plenty of time. All you need to do is ask for help. You don’t have to do it all on your own. I know you are trying to be responsible, but everyone needs some assistance. It’s part of my job to help you; please ask me when you need it. I love you.”

Right then, I knew that if I had been in a movie, the screen would have frozen and the narrator’s voice would have boomed from above, “Did you hear what you just said, Andrea? Are you listening? You are your daughter, and I am you. This is true for your life, too.”

Sometimes, we find ourselves convinced, before we even step in to the day that it is going to be the worst day ever. One thing after another goes wrong, our plates are too full, we have too many balls in the air, and it feels as if it is all going to fall apart. Not to mention, there are the internal struggles stirring around inside of us like fears, jealousy, disappointment, and more. Ugh. Oh, what to do?

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27).

Dear reader, when you find yourself overwrought, ask the Lord for help and reassurance of His presence. Allow Him to wrap His strong yet gentle arms around you. The One who holds the Universe together is the one Who loves you. Everywhere you are, He is right there. Receive the comfort that He has for your heart. He says to you, “Calm down, dear one. Just ask for My help. I know that you are trying your best, but everyone needs some assistance. You cannot do this life on your own. Lean on Me. Helping you is what I love to do, because I love you. Take one thing at time, you are going to be fine because you are mine.”

When we got in the car, I asked my daughter, “Are you better? What can I do to help you not feel as sad, before you go to school? Do you need a hug?” A smile appeared on her face. She quickly unbuckled and leaned over the driver seat where I sat, turned in her direction. I held her for a few minutes, and then we were on our way. I think she was reassured and felt better, and thanks to what the Lord showed me about myself and Him, so do I.
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