Fear Not

Fear not

“Fear not . . .”  Isaiah 43:1

“Fear not” – words that make us stand a little straighter and feel a little stronger.  “Fear not,” (and words of a similar context) are found in the Bible more than a hundred times.[1]  We’re taught that fear and faith cannot coexist.  A fearful saint is not a faithful saint. But if you – like me – find yourself in a tumultuous situation, that contrast between the two extremes is a very real and present tension.  Like the father in Mark 9, we find ourselves pleading – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).  Over and over I pray: “God, I know You’ve got this.  I know you are faithful.  I know You will never leave me nor forsake me.  But I’m scared God.  I don’t want to be.  I’m trying not to be.  But I am.”  And He understands.  He doesn’t chide or rebuke me – He just gives me reasons not to fear.

Fear not . . . for God has heard (Gen. 21:18)

Fear not for I am with you (Gen. 26:24) (My favorite)

Do not be afraid, the Lord will fight for you (Deut. 3:22)

Do not be afraid . . . for the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6)

Fear not; I will help you (Isa. 41:13)

Today, at the suggestion of my sister-in-love, I’ve been meditating in Isaiah 43 and found some incredible words of hope that fit my life perfectly:

“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

At this moment I am both drowning in the sea and wandering through a desert.  Seems as odd as faith mingled with fear but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Disability.  Unemployment.   Multiple applications with no nibbles.  Interviews with “no thank you.”  Watching the funds dwindle as the provisions dry up.  The reality of what we’re facing beats down like the scorching sun as we wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland .  Mind you not to drown us like the sea, but to refresh and restore us.

He meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  He will make a way.

 

[1] The NIV records some 110 references; other translations will have a slightly different word count.  Despite how good is sounds, there are actually not 365 “Fear not” verses.

Advertisements

Looking at Life from Higher Up

art-water-ocean-rocks.jpg

“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all?
Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.
Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

The God I Know

thFRHR16KD

“They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:42).

Like most couples, my husband and I have some significant differences – like the way we drive.  I am a “straight-shot” driver – give me the most direct route with the fewest turns possible.  He likes to take -shall we say – alternate routes as he drives.  He is constantly trying to tell me his “better ways” to get from point A to point B, and I usually smile and go my own way. One of his shortcuts is a wide swing on a country road to avoid a city with heavy traffic.  I usually fought through the traffic because I wasn’t sure I could navigate his preferred route.  Until we moved a few months ago and we actually live right on this very road.  Now, because I travel this road all the time, I am confident I can navigate it successfully and I’ve found it really is a better way.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He changed her life and she ran to tell her neighbors that she had found the Christ.  They came to meet this man and heard His message in the two days He stayed in their town.  John says, “Because of His words many more became believers.” (v. 41).  They didn’t believe the woman’s claims about who Jesus was until they saw Him with their own eyes and heard Him with their own ears.  Then they understood that Jesus was indeed God’s Anointed One – He was the better way.

In every life challenges and difficulties come and situations take us by surprise.  Health struggles, joblessness, relationship battles, loss and heartache happen and we’re left wondering where to turn.  My family is experiencing some of those right now and we are turning to God.  Why?  Because over the years, we have come to know Him through experience.  We’ve found Him to be able and faithful.  We’ve tried Him and are confident of His love and care.

Every challenge in life is an opportunity to discover who God is.  Sure, you read about Him in the Bible and you’ve heard other’s talk about what He’s done in their lives, but what do those stories mean for you?  Not much until you experience Him for yourself.   A recent health issue reminded me that God is my Healer.  In this present season, we are trusting in God as our Provider.  A dear friend recently experienced loss and now confidently claims God as her Comforter.  You can’t really know who God is until you have tried Him and found Him to be exactly what you need. Just as He said He would be.

Beloved, whatever your season, whatever the need – may I encourage you to try God?  I am certain you will find He is able and faithful.  Then you can say with confidence – “I believe because I have experienced Him for myself – I know He is everything He claims to be.”

One Step at a Time

stepping stones
“The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.”  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do.’ ”  (1 Samuel 16:2,3)
 
“Lord what do you want me to do?”  “What is the plan?”  “How is this going to work?”  Ever asked those questions?  I know I  have and so have scores of others.  It’s human nature – we want to have the full plan laid out before us before we start.  No builder would begin a house without a complete set of blueprints – down to the location of every wall socket and light switch.  A business proposal outlines a long-term plan and prospectus for the success of the project.  No smart business man would buy into an idea that wasn’t fully developed.  In our lives we set out a plan for the day, the week, the month and the year – and even for years ahead.   We want to know how things will turn out in the end.  We want the whole picture.
But God doesn’t give us the whole picture.  He gives us one step at a time, just as He did for Samuel.  He told the prophet to go to Bethlehem and prepare to make a sacrifice with Jesse and his sons.  That’s it.   “Do step one and I will show you step two.” 
God delights in obedience – the kind that doesn’t wait for the full plan but willingly acts on step one.  In fact, I don’t know of anyone in the Bible – except Jesus – who knew the end from the beginning.  Success in God’s eyes is not completing the whole task in one grand push; success is doing the one thing God told you to do and waiting for the next instruction.  Besides, if you knew the whole plan you would be a) completely overwhelmed and/or b) set off doing things your own way which results in c) a mess.
Beloved, God has a plan – a vey good plan, but it requires your daily, step-by-step obedience.  You can trust Him – He will not forget you or leave you stranded.  He will see you all the way through.  Today determine to obey what you know to do – the rest will come – on time and with the strength you need.  One step at a time.

God Knows

“For the Lord your God knows your trudging through this great wilderness.  These forty years the Lord your God has been with you” (Deuteronomy 2:7).

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows but Jesus.

The beautiful old African-American spiritual was a testament to the struggles and the faith of the slaves of the 1800’s.  Louie Armstrong recorded the song in 1962 and many more have followed.  This song could have also been sung by the early church martyrs and even the Israelites who fled Egypt and set out toward the Promised Land.  It reminds us that life is hard, sometimes very hard, but God is aware and He is with us.

As the second generation of Israelites prepared to cross over the Jordan River, Moses reminded them of their own history and warned them not to turn again to the rebellious ways of their fathers.  Earlier, when they had neared Canaan, Moses sent twelve scouts to look over the land and bring a full report.  They confirmed that the land was rich and desirable, but they balked at taking on the current occupants, fearing they would be destroyed.  Their disobedience resulted in forty years of wandering to allow the unfaithful generation to die so that the next generation – hopefully wiser and more faithful than their parents – could go in.  It was forty years of hardship and drudgery – “trudging through the great wilderness.”  For the faithless Israelites it was long, hard journey to nowhere.

I think “trudging” is a great word to describe life sometimes.  It brings up the image of weary feet-dragging and endless, pointless plodding in a dry and unfriendly terrain.  Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?  Day after day after day of struggle and difficulty.  You try to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but even that feels like more than you can do at times.  You wonder if anyone sees you.  If anyone cares.

My friend, I promise you, on the Word of God and my own life experience, Someone does.  Someone sees every step you take.  Someone hears every sigh and catches every tear.  You know who that Someone is – it is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Sovereign One.  He is watching over you, just as He watched over the Israelites in their forty-year trek across the wilderness.  Not only was He watching over them, He was with them.  Close enough to see the weariness on their faces.  And day by day by day He cared for them.  He led them.  He fed them. He provided for them.

I know sometimes it feels like you are all alone in your struggles but be assured God is with you.  He is near and He cares about you.  He will lead you.  He will provide for you.  He will comfort you and encourage you – it’s what He loves to do.  If He cared enough to send His one and only Son to die for you, do you think He will forget you in your daily struggles?  Oh Beloved, I understand – I’ve been through some very hard times. I’m in a difficult season right now.  At times I thought I was all alone – especially when my troubles were self-made.  But God has always been good, He has never abandoned me, and He will never abandon you.

The Israelites found God faithful.  The early church and the martyrs of the first century and beyond found Him to be the same.  And so have I.  He has never let His people down.  He has never left them alone in their struggles.  He has not changed.  He is as good and faithful today as He was hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

When you think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen,” remember “the Lord your God knows.” He is near and ready to help.

Holy Father, some days feel like I’m trudging through an endless wilderness.  I need Your help and the comfort of Your presence.  Help me to trust that You are watching over me and that you are with me every step of the way.  Amen.

 

When All Is Lost

Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can learn from this account, and a good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

I Can’t Forgive Myself

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47).

She is the town tramp with a well-earned, shameful reputation.  Women whisper about her when she walks past and pull their children close lest her degenerate nature somehow infect them.  Men look at her with disdain – on the outside at least – and lust for her on the inside.  No self-respecting religious authority would publicly be seen near her.  Yet here she is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping tears onto His dusty feet, tenderly drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive perfume – no doubt funded by her illicit acts.  She is a sinful woman.  And Jesus loves her.  He who alone has the authority to judge her, instead forgives her.  The sin she carried into the house is left in a heap at those perfumed feet and she walks out forgiven and free from the weight of her shame.

David said it beautifully – “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him” (Psalm 32:1-2).  This woman is blessed.  She has been forgiven, her sins are covered and the Lord does not hold them against her anymore.  Jesus has spoken His forgiveness over her.  I cannot image that she spent the rest of her life wrapped in a shawl of shame grieving her past.  So why do we?

Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.”  The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today.  What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore?  Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, your past – regardless of how ugly it is – is covered by the all-sufficient, all-powerful, perfectly-cleansing blood of Jesus.  Hear what the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?  They are gone. Done. Washed away.  If you continue to carry the weight of your sins around, you are saying that Jesus is not a sufficient Savior and that God is a liar.  He has declared you forgiven through the blood of Jesus – why would He say it if it were not so?  Why would you continue to hold onto something that is no longer there?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins.  Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists.  He wants to weigh you down with your past so you cannot walk confidently into your future.  Beloved, do not let him steal your freedom.  But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.  Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible.  One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexually promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down.  Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.”  This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling.  If something new comes to mind, write it down and add your declaration of forgiveness.  Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you. [1]

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself.  God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice.  There is nothing left to forgive.  Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1.

[1] There are times when we must also confess our sins to someone who has been wronged by our actions.  Prayerfully ask God if this is something you should do.

I Wrote This for You

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

The truth is, what you see in me – or read in my words – is not all there is.  I may look wise and together on paper, but it’s not the full picture.  I wrestle daily with the dark devil of depression; it has been my constant companion since I was very young.  It has taken me to some deep, gloomy places.  It has cost me a great deal in my relationships, health, time, money, and hopes and dreams.   I’ve tried many things to keep it at bay; medication, Scripture and prayer have all been effective and helpful tools. But they haven’t made it completely go away.  Especially in the past few months.   This is what I wrote in my prayer journal not too long ago:

Lord, the truth is, depression lingers just below the surface.  I walk through my days like walking across thin ice on a river of discouragement, knowing that one misplaced footfall and I will plunge into the dark waters again.  Then sometimes I think, it would be so easy to give in to it; just take a deep breath and let myself slip under those familiar waves of despair.  In some weird way it is a comfortable foe – we’ve been together for a long, long time.  I fight it most days, but make no mistake – it’s always there, looming, dark and taunting, waiting for me to take that one wrong step and tumble in.

So, am I a fraud when I write words of encouragement and hope? Not at all.  Do I really believe the things I write about God breaking through despair to bring hope?  Yes – because those are the very same words that God speaks to me – His continual stream of goodness and inspiration that keeps my feet steady and my head lifted.  They are His constant reminders of love flowing through His Word and His Spirit and shining in my darkness.  He knows me.  He knows that I can’t make it one day without the hope He gives.  He knows that the frustrations and uncertainty I am facing right now threaten to do me in.  So He speaks to me.

Then He tells me to speak to you.  Because He knows you too.  He knows that some days are so hard you don’t even want to get out of bed.  He knows that you are lonely, grieving, hurting, fearful.  He knows that you have been disappointed, forgotten, rejected, passed over – and so He tells me, “Take the words that have spoken over you and speak it over them.”  That is why I write.  It’s so you can grab onto the same lifeline God threw out to me.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  I can’t keep this comfort and encouragement to myself – it’s much too big and wonderful for just me.  It’s for you too.  It’s a warm blanket we can share in a cold world.  The blanket of hope.  The quilt of encouragement.   And the beauty is – there’s always room to welcome more.

Beloved, come join me in the sweet, blessed comfort of our Heavenly Father.  Hear His words of hope, of peace, of encouragement and of joy.  Let Him wash over you with the warmth of His love.  We’re in this together – you and I – and the God of Heaven and Earth.  We’re gonna make it—He told me so—and then He told me to tell you.

Holy Father,  You are so faithful to speak words of light and life over me.  As long as I have a voice, whether speaking to one person, a crowd, or the whole world of cyberspace, I will speak of Your goodness and faithfulness and love.  Let me always be a conduit of Your comfort. Amen.

Face-to-Face

Many years and a lifetime ago, my ex-husband abandoned me six hours away from my family. I called my mom (collect) and cried. She said that she and my dad would be there at the end of the week to help me pack up and come back home. I called her every day that week, multiple times a day and cried as she comforted me. I was so grateful for those phone conversations, but nothing could take the place of that moment when she stood with her arms around me and said, “We’re here. We’ll help you get home.
There are two verses in Isaiah 41 that came together for me in a powerful way this week. Verse 10 says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” That is awesome! God has taken hold of me with His right hand. But then I saw something in verse 13: “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Did you see it? God has taken hold of my right hand. With His right hand. The only way that works is if God and I are standing face-to-face.
I know life has been a struggle lately and you wonder if God cares or is even paying attention. Oh Beloved, t’s time to look up. See your Heavenly Father standing right in front of you. Feel the warmth of your right hand in His right hand. Hear Him as He looks into your eyes and speaks. “Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will help you.” He knows. He cares. He is with you. Face-to-face.

On the Outside Looking In

I was never popular in school. I had a weird name, I was tall and gangly, clumsy and awkward. I wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes and every school picture looked like I didn’t own a hairbrush. I wasn’t very smart and wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. Oh but I wanted to be. I wanted so much to be accepted by the pretty girls who dressed in the latest fashions and carried themselves with an air of confidence I could never master. That carried over into my adult life, always feeling like I was on the outside looking in. When I became a Christian, those feelings didn’t change. I had a past—a pretty ugly one, and all those Bible-toting women at church, seemed so perfect. Had they ever made some of the choices I made? Did they feel ashamed of the things they had done? I drew back because I didn’t feel like I belonged among them. I felt like an outsider.

That’s why I love Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. He writes, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (2:19). Paul says I belong. It’s not because I’m less awkward or because I dress better or finally found a hairbrush. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus made me acceptable to God. He made me part of the family. He died to cover all my sins and to take away my shame. Because of Jesus I am not an outsider; I’m part of the “in” crowd – because I’m in Him. It’s not a popularity contest. In God’s Kingdom everyone is the same – rescued, redeemed, restored and joined together as one holy dwelling place for the Lord (2:21).

My friend, God’s hand is stretched out to you too, to welcome you into the family, to be “in,” and to never be rejected again. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you live or work or whether your hair is neatly brushed. It doesn’t matter if you never finished school or if you have a string of letters after your name. It doesn’t matter if you made all the right choices in life (like anyone has) or if you made every mistake possible. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, live in a mansion or a tent come from the right family or the wrong side of the tracks. God says to you “Come.” Take Him up on His offer. There’s more than enough room at the family table for you. You can sit next to me.

Holy Father, what a blessing to be part of Your family, to be accepted and welcomed with every other saint of God. I have nothing of value or worth, I’m just a sinner saved by grace. Oh but grace! Thank you for making a place for me a the family table. Amen.