Faith Over Fear

Faith Over Fear

It was a gospel journey that brought my group of beach friends together. It started in the late 1980’s when we were young moms. Although, the beach retreats didn’t start until 2011. I always enjoy this extraordinary getaway with my spiritual sisters twice a year, more so now that I am not working full tilt in full-time ministry. I am usually the early riser in the group. It doesn’t matter if we have stayed up until midnight binge-watching “Jamestown.” I’m still up in the quiet of the morning seeing the sun rise through the kitchen window while coffee is brewing.

Saturday morning of this getaway (9-29-18), I was reading My Utmost for His Highest (Oswald Chambers). This quote struck me: “The realization of the (God’s) call in a person’s life may come like a clap of thunder or it may dawn gradually… but… it is always accompanied with an undercurrent of the supernatural – something that is inexpressible and produces a ‘glow.’ ”

We were a fairly informal group until a certain discipleship training course crashed into our lives. It was called MasterLife. I don’t know if it was the scripture we memorized, or the all-morning prayer solitude one day, or the continuous prayers we prayed, or the hard homework questions we discussed. But, our lives were changed. And we answered unique calls. It’s possible that the greatest call came and directed us to minister to our own families. It wasn’t a clap of thunder. It dawned gradually.

Many children and grandchildren later, our families remain the greatest arena of our faith testing. The greatest arena of our fear. The greatest arena of heartache. The greatest puzzle. The greatest arena of hard questioning. The greatest arena of life and death cycles. The greatest arena of the stretching to which God calls us. Yet, the place where our faith has been built up.

Twice a year, we come to the beach “mountain top,” but that is not where we are allowed to stay. We often (sometimes reluctantly) return to the “valley of life” with a refreshed perspective. Because of a call whispered to us by God, we step ahead in faith. A spiritual touch happens. A supernatural undercurrent. An inexpressible lure.

Joshua 1:2 says, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you (Joshua) and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites.” Just as God was preparing Joshua ahead of the crossing, God prepares us. We get ready. While we wrestle with our fears, God’s promises remain trustworthy. He refuels us with His Word. He gives us courage and resolve. We leave the beach.

Joshua 1:5-7 says, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”

Faith over fear. It’s the message of Joshua. The call of God. The glow. Be strong. Be courageous.

 

The Inexplicable “But God”

12 Stones

Joshua 3:11-13 “See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord – the Lord of all the earth – set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

This makes me think of times in my life. When God’s redeeming love seemed inexplicable. When the river of my life has clearly been at flood stage, I look back and see that God stopped the flowing of the water from upstream and piled it up in a heap while cutting off the water flowing downstream. I crossed on dry ground again and again and my memories are like the 12 stones taken from the River Jordan (read Joshua 3 and 4). They are the testimonies of God’s amazing grace in my life.

At best, childhood is perilous. But even more so, the teen years are no exception. Perilous. And despite some really dangerous decisions and lacks of good judgment, God spared me in my teen years. Sometimes I wonder why. And then I remember that my parents were always praying. I never seemed to be able to poke out of the protective bubble that those prayers locked around me. Same with the college years. Same with my parenting years. Same with my professional years. Some profound rescues occurred. Definitely, I passed through on dry land and knew the reality of God’s intervention. “But God” is still something I whisper to myself often. I need to remember…

Joshua 3:3-7 “Giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.’ Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ Joshua said to the priests, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.’ So they took it up and went ahead of them. And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.’ ”

The memories of these providential rescues in my life serve as the 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan River. God’s miraculous interruptions have done nothing but point me to His redemption. I have even seen Him erase damaging memories to reflect His great love. Inexplicable.

Here are some of my favorite “But God” passages:

Acts 13:30 “But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now His witnesses to our people.”

Psalm 66:19 “But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Although the photo above is only representative of the 12 stones of remembrance in Joshua 3 and 4, the waters around me continue to stand up in a heap. Life’s circumstances remain at flood stage 90% of the time. I only know which way to go when I follow God closely and have an unwavering faith in Him, His mercy, His power, and His salvation. “But God.” He is the reason I cross on dry ground.

 

Happy Places

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Photo credit: Kim Clayton Lance

Psalm 85:8-13 “I will listen to what God the Lord will say; He promises peace to His people, His saints – but let them not return to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.”

Everyone has a happy place, either in their heart or in a physical location. Some friends and I would agree that the beach is the happiest of places, but mainly with a good book, a good chair, and a good cup of coffee. I have a sister-in-law who is the happiest every summer spending time on one of the Thousand Islands (NY). The place and the heart are both tied together. Married really.

I love the photos of Kim Clayton Lance (ApertureoftheSoul – FaceBook)! They speak to my heart. What she captures on her camera might mimic what it is like when I capture some great truth(s) from God’s Word. Unexpected. Swift. Powerful. Urgent. Happy. The place and the heart, tied together. I love the photo of the little church with the background of vastness and beauty. It makes me contemplate God.

There is a moment when the scripture (especially a passage from Psalms) touches a place in my heart that surprises me. The place and the heart, tied together. I am very familiar with God’s Word, but lean toward complacent and comfortable. I respect God’s Word, but sometimes don’t expect it to move me. I know God’s Spirit enlivens the eyes of my heart, but I forget to invite Him in.

I am happy when God brings together the place and the heart. Today, in Psalm 85 I contemplated the perfect marriage of love and faithfulness. God tied them together. The perfect marriage of righteousness and peace. God tied them together. And, it felt just like the marriage of the little church with the majesty of the mountains behind it! Perfect. Happy. Place. God’s design.

Kodak Moments

KODAK and camera

Since digital photography has replaced the camera film processing of yesteryear, the word Kodak might not mean anything to you, depending on your age. The Kodak company manufactured the film we used in our cameras. There was a saying back in the day. “Kodak moment” indicated the perfection of a great photograph, snapped in merely a second, that captured some great memory. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the photo represented a perfect life. But, you’d know better…

Psalm 44:1-4 “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what You did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand You drove out the nations and planted our fathers; You crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You loved them. You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.”

I’ve had some Kodak moments that have reminded me of the light of God’s face. In these moments, I know that it is God Who chases away the darkness that threatens to swallow us. He sends us tender moments to experience here on planet earth. In these, He reminds us of His redemption. He whispers “all is right” in this moment, and one day it will be every moment because of Jesus. Remember this.

Joy was all mine recently when my 1-month-old grandson slept in my arms for over an hour. His little breaths and expressions…my goodness – definitely a Kodak moment! Joy was all mine when I went to see the movie Incredibles 2 with my oldest granddaughters on the last day of its local showing, an impromptu plan that came together (Elastigirl is my hero!). Kodak moment! Joy was all mine when Pop Pop cooked a country ham in July and helped relieve a broken air conditioning situation in one of our children’s homes! Kodak moments.

Joy was all mine when I worked alongside my daughter-in-law to sort and store baby clothes for almost a week, a reminder of her three precious children. Kodak moment, definitely. Joy was all mine when one daughter shared a huge mercy that was wrapped up in her new teaching position. Joy was all mine in a last minute rendezvous at a local brewery with one daughter’s family on a summer evening. Kodak moment! And dinners with good friends. And a beautiful 4-hour taxi-cab tour of the Isle of Man on a sunny day. And a new leadership position for a respected colleague. The list goes on. Kodak moments all!

After all that Joseph experienced in Genesis 37-50, especially being sold into slavery in a huge betrayal by his own brothers, there came a moment, a final redemptive moment in Genesis 50:19-21: “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he assured them and spoke kindly to them.'”

Kodak moments. Look for them. They are everywhere. A whisper of God’s love. The hope of redemption. His right hand. The light of His face. His love. His kindness.

 

 

 

Elijah and The Still Small Voice

Still Small Voice - Kim Clayton Lance

Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

He hit a wall. Even Elijah’s great faith ran out once upon a time. Even after he solidly challenged the prophets of Baal, where God displayed His great power – Elijah had trouble relying on God when Jezebel shortly thereafter threatened him. My friend Virginia wrote an amazing blog post about Elijah’s situation. You will be encouraged if you read it. https://rosesintherubble.com/2018/07/20/elijah-elijah-elijah-elijah/

Was Elijah just tired, or was his faith teetering on the edge of a cliff? I Kings 19:11-12 (The Message) says: “Then he [Elijah] was told, ‘Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.’ A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.”

One of my favorite sermons about Elijah is delivered by Timothy Keller. See this link and look for the sermon on June 30, 2016 entitled “The Still Small Voice.” https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-still-small-voice/id352660924?i=1000371718377&mt=2

God seems to know what we need and how we need to hear from Him when we are feeling low and terrified and tired like Elijah. He has command of the wind, earthquakes, and fire. No question. He could use any of these powerful means at any time to communicate a truth we need to hear or His presence that we need to experience. But, sometimes He knows we hear Him better when we are alone in the quiet place with His word. Sometimes He comes nearer to us in the solitary and secure place when our faith needs reviving. With a gentle and quiet whisper.

For me, it is often the wind of my selfish pride, the earthquake of my failed plans and near breakdowns, and the fire of my uncontrollable circumstances that is required to get me into a position of stillness before the Lord. It is often what is required to knock me off my rocker of schemes and independence. Elijah was under great pressure. His very life was in danger. He was at the end of his resources. He really hoped for an end to everything.

But God, in His grace, intervened. Tim Keller explains that God’s intervention was multi-level. Elijah’s needs were complex. God’s first interventions included food and listening. How practical and helpful. How loving. How healing…

Elijah’s story reminds me how much I need God’s intervention. His restoration. His comfort. His way of settling my spirit down. His way of breathing new energy into my soul. His way of letting my faith revive. His way of leading me back to His Word. His way of nudging me back to attention on His mountain.

I fight it often. God knows.

But, God has still given me ears to hear His still small voice.

Psalm 146:8-9 “The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.”

 

 

Dependence Day

Red White Blue

Independence Day. I see in the microscope – many images of red, white, blue. Fireworks, apple pie, picnics. Hot southern summer days.  In the “macroscope,” not so much…

Psalm 37 inspired my blog awhile ago because of God’s promises there when things are not vivid red, white, or blue, apple pie-like or picnic-like.  Which is most of the time. “Fret not” became an image of real faith for me, when I needed a deeper and wider place to find footing in Christ. “Fretting not” became not a temporary coping skill, but rather a lifelong disposition to be cultivated through faith in Jesus Christ. How does this disposition form?

I see that “fretting not” has come through a horrendously crushing road of tests and opportunities sent by God to strengthen my faith. In this life so far, two “crushings” in particular have challenged my core. My “go to” was far worse than mere fretting. It was more like a huge infusion of adrenal-laden anxiety that never slept. What I learned from the panic associated with the first crushing helped me to breathe during the second crushing. That epidemic anxiety disrupted my life because I could no longer engineer or manipulate my white-picket-fence facade of circumstances…

Psalm 37:1-6 (Message version) says “Don’t bother your head with braggarts or wish you could succeed like the wicked. In no time they’ll shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut flowers in the sun. Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last. Open up before God, keep nothing back; He’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.”

I’m wiser now. In Psalm 37, “fret not” is given as an imperative, not a suggestion. Probably because God can be fully trusted. Days of unhappiness, sadness, anger, humiliation, disappointment, physical pain, and emotional upset do not need to be further tormented by fretting. Because I can trust in God and His purposes and control. Romans 8:28 is a scripture reference tattooed to my ankle for the last ten years as a reminder. Because it sings its message in my heart.

Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” The good. Not the happiness. What? A radical truth. The echo: my good, not my happiness… For me, Independence Day was the day I understood Romans 8:28 and realized that, although my happiness is not God’s purpose in my life, that He causes all things, even misery, to work out for my eternal good. He wants me to be holy.

Torturous circumstances simply do not change the truth of Romans 8:28. A root canal gone south, screaming kids in the back of the car, a disastrous family gathering, a door slammed in anger, a pot of creamy soup spilled on the inside of the refrigerator and all down on the floor, traffic jams on I-64, strife in the workplace, estrangement from former friends…

I don’t read Oswald Chambers (MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST) every day, but I did read it yesterday (the entry for July 4th). Is it any surprise that Oswald’s take on Psalm 37 is about the trouble with fretting? Is it any surprise that it is precisely about being fully dependent on God as a lifelong disposition? Chambers says “fussing always ends in sin.” He is SO right. Fussing becomes all about me and my will. How I want to engineer my circumstances. How I don’t deserve a certain outcome. How I have done everything right and should be rewarded. Oh, how sick my soul becomes with this thinking. I end up completely doubting that God has any power and authority over what goes on in my life.

Chambers says (in THE LOVE OF GOD), “It is misleading to imagine that we are developed in spite of our circumstances, we are developed because of them. It is mastery in circumstances that is needed, not mastery over them.”

Everything about the gospel turns upside-down what we think we know. My greatest freedom is not equivalent to independence. My greatest freedom is found in complete dependence on the substitutionary sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf and the life He wants to live through me through faith.

Dedicated to Dad: A Hero of Faith in My Life

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My dad taught me that being faithful to God is difficult when literally everything in the world pulls us in the opposite direction. That pull that draws us away from silence and stillness. That pull that makes us obsess about the next meal or cup of coffee. That pull that replaces rest with restlessness. That decision that compromises our integrity. That email that replaces face to face interaction. That absorption with media and content that replaces the true study of God’s Word.

My dad taught me that many other pulls would come. The ceaseless and distracting demands of parenting. The choking hours of a rising career path. The idolatry of the “work hard-party hard” never-ending cycle. The skin deep friendships that replace the authentic “soul care” relationships. The small talk that replaces gospel conversations. The entertainment drug that strips away being present in the moment. The various good endeavors that open the door to bad things. The various side roads that can turn into harmful addictions…

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; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.” My dad taught me the truth of this scripture. Oswald Chambers, in his book MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST (June 16), said “Salvation is easy for us, because it cost God so much. But the exhibiting of salvation in my life is difficult.” My dad showed me that exhibiting salvation is a lifelong challenge.

I see that taking refuge in God (Psalm 37:39-40) is the key to exhibiting our salvation. All the flawed heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 were known by their faith, were declared righteous by their faith, were long remembered for their faith. Because, even at times of weak faith, they still had faith.

My dad taught me that the difficulty of exhibiting salvation in my life is tremendously eased when I turn my heart and affections to Jesus Christ, Who is the only One Who can deliver me from the forces that pull me in the opposite direction of the world. He taught me that prayer is the cord that connects me to Jesus and expresses my desire to be delivered. Sometimes it is half-hearted. No matter. It still expresses my faith, little as it might be.

I don’t grieve about the difficulty of exhibiting salvation in my life. I know it’s difficult. Tremendously difficult. But, I do appreciate that it needs to be exhibited in some increasing and obvious measure. The salvation that cost God so much simply cannot be hidden if it is real in my life. Thankfully, God’s Holy Spirit provides the help we need to be overcomers, exhibitors of salvation.

My dad is still showing me this!