Less is More

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The saying goes, “less is more,” meaning the less clutter you have in your home, life, etc. the more home, life, etc. you have.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn as I look around my study, cluttered with books, studies, commentaries, resources, Bibles, files, sewing stuff, and tons of notebooks.  But, because of Jesus, there are some areas of my life where I am truly grateful that less really is more.

Because of Jesus, I am shameless – Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I did not always live for God, and my sin caused me tremendous shame.  Even after I became a Christian I still stumbled in many ways, and the enemy heaped shame on me.   But Jesus took all my shame to the cross and the grave.  When He rose to life again, my shame stayed buried forever. Whatever you may have done, no matter how shameful it may be, Jesus can set you free.

Because of Jesus, I am guiltless – Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  We’ve all had feelings of guilt—because we are all sinners.  Jesus’ blood fell from His head and hands and feet, and continues to sprinkle all who will come and kneel at the foot of the cross.  His blood washes away all our sin, and with it our guilt.  You can set down that heavy burden and run into your Father’s presence knowing that His arms are open wide to receive you.

Because of Jesus, I am fearless – 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”  God loves you and me perfectly with an everlasting love that will never fail, no matter what we may do.  Because of His perfect love, we no longer have to tip toe into God’s presence, fearing His anger and wrath.

Jesus took all our sin and with it all the consequences and the burdens that sin brings. Because of Him you and I can be shameless, guiltless and fearless.  Beloved, don’t let your life get clutter with all this stuff.  Grab hold of the “less is more” principle and walk in the freedom Christ won for you.

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Lord, Save Me!

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“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!”” (Matthew 14:30)

Brave, confident Peter stood up and stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the liquid surface of the lake – and the water held him up! Like any curious person would do, Peter looked around to see if what he thought was happening really was. And that’s when the laws of nature took over and Peter began to sink.

Peter knew Jesus – he had heard His authoritative teaching and had witnessed and participated in His miracles.  In fact, this incident comes “immediately” on the heels of Jesus feeding more than five thousand people (Matthew 14:22).  But in a moment, all he knew about Jesus sank into the waves with him.  He was overcome with fear.  Can you relate? Sometimes we seem to be doing good – walking along in our faith with our heads held high.  Then something happens – a crisis hits, the bottom falls out, and suddenly we are sinking and crying out for help.

I have walked with Jesus for some 40+ years and there have been many ups and downs, some pretty awesome highs and some very deep lows.  I wish I could say that I’ve always been a model of unwavering faith – but that would be a lie.  What I can say is that every trial has built my faith by degrees.  You may be familiar with the hard season we’ve experienced these past several months.  We were rocked harder than we’d ever been.  It all looked very dire, and we were sinking fast.  All I could do was cry out, “Lord save us!”  And He did.

Here’s what I know – and what I want you to know.  God’s hand was behind that stormy sea.  He stirred up the wind and the waves that rocked our boat and tossed us into the water. Why would He do that?  Because His was the hand that would reach out to save us.  Because I needed to know the power of His saving grace and the depth of His everlasting love.  And so do you.  You need to know that when all seems lost, God will rescue you.  When you think you’re about to drown, God will pull you up.  Your storm is real – but so is God.  Start looking for His hand over the waves.

For the Troubled Heart

 

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.” John 14:1

The disciples were anxious because the Lord had told them, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33).  Peter, speaking what everyone was thinking, wanted to know where He was going and why they could not accompany Him (John 13:36, 37).

They were facing a bewildering, unknown future.  After having been with Jesus almost day and night for three years, now He was going away from them?  After all His teaching and all His training – after showing them His power, His miracles, and His authority – He was leaving them behind.  Why would he abandon them?  What would happen to them? What would become of this great movement they had begun?

Jesus understood their fears.  That is why He offered them words of comfort and assurance.  Notice, though, that He did not say, “Now don’t you worry, everything is going to work out – it’ll all be fine – just wait and see.”  He didn’t even tell them, “It’s okay – see this is all part of my plan.”  No, the answer Jesus gave them was:

“Trust in God.  Trust also in me” (John 14:1b).

In His words rested all the comfort they needed:  I am faithful.  I am trustworthy.  He did not soothe their frazzled minds with the common words of assurance.  He was their assurance.  They just needed to remember . . .

They had walked with Him and had participated in His mighty acts.  They had heard His words, experienced His love, seen His power over the storm and in the storm, felt His hands pouring water on their dusty feet.  They knew that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  They knew He was their friend (John 15:15).

“Trust in me.”

Beloved, Jesus knows you are afraid and weary.  He knows that you can’t see past this moment – this grief, this shock, this heartache, this very hard season.  He knows you cannot envision the road ahead and you don’t know what will happen.  He knows your anxious heart and He says to you,

“Trust in me.”

Trust in the words He has said – “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you” (Isaiah 41:10).  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Trust in His love.  Trust in His faithfulness.  Trust in His promise.  Trust in the One who gave His life to redeem you from your sins.  Trust in the One who rose from the dead to give you eternal life.

Trust in Jesus – there is no greater assurance.

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.

In my Prison of Fear

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

 

God forced me to face one of my biggest fears today. Against all my arguments, I attended the funeral of the 28 year old son of a dear friend. I wanted to go for the family’s sake. But I didn’t want to go because I knew I would have to stare my fear right in the face. And I think that was the point God was making, because He is determined to break me out of my prison. My prison of fear.

Fear has been my constant companion. For as long as I can recall, I have lived with fear. There are the usual ones: fear of rejection (which has happened), fear of failure (which has also happened), fear of the unknown, fear of heights and snakes and fire. Since the attacks on 9/11 the world has become a fearful place – enemies are all over the world, hiding in plain sight – why my next door neighbor could be plotting some heinous act.

But many of the fears that have imprisoned me are not so common, often irrational, and hard to break free of. They are fears that have affected relationships, have kept me from following my dreams, fears that keep me awake at night, and drag me into the pit of despair. I don’t know exactly when I became so fearful. As I was growing up, fear kept me from playing in the marching band or on a sports team or trying out for a part in the school play or the solo in the youth choir. Fear kept me from making friends with people I admired, and kept me bound in relationships that I should have walked away from. It caused emotional and physical health issues and straining even good, healthy relationships. Afraid of making (another) mistake, the running joke is “I don’t have to always be right, as long as I am never wrong.” It sounds funny, but the truth is, fear has often paralyzed me from making any decision at all. I am so afraid of looking foolish, I don’t even try. Fear has eaten away at any peace and joy in my life.

But it was when I became a Mom that fear kicked into overdrive and took control. After seven years of waiting and praying and hoping, through a difficult pregnancy and delivery; after my newborn son spent a week in the NICU at a medical university, by the time we came home I was determined to protect him at all costs. I became an expert “smother-mother.” I parented largely out of fear. Yes, and out of love too. Certainly I love my son with all my heart. But it is a fear-filled heart, and so often what began as caring and love morphed in actions motivated by fear. It was fear that caused me to pull him out of public school and start home-schooling. If was fear that questioned his friendships and relationships, fear that had to know where he was all the time and who he was with. And when the inevitable battles came as he got older, I pulled the reigns in even tighter. Out of fear. Mind you, like every teen/young adult he has given me reasons to be anxious, and times it was necessary and reasonable to pull those reigns a little tighter. In love, I want to keep him safe, but I often go into hyper-vigilant mode, and reasonable goes right out the window. I am just beginning to realize how much of my parenting has been influenced by fear.

God revealed something important – life changing – to me this morning through a passage that is, ironically, my son’s favorite Bible verse: 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casts out fear.” In those five words, God showed me what my life has been all about, and what I have been missing. Because I live in such fear, I cannot receive the love that God is offering to me. And because I can’t grab hold of His love, I live in fear. And because I I don’t claim His love for myself, I am trying to love others out of an anxious heart. The truth is, my fear-filled heart can’t really even love God-who is the fullness of all love. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, as we might think. It’s fear. The Word didn’t say “perfect love casts out hate,” because the root of hate is fear. Just as pride is the root of all sin, fear is the root of everything that is counter to love. Fear makes me judgmental. Fear keeps me from reaching out to others. Fear keeps me from accepting another’s hand reaching out to me. Fear keeps me isolated and lonely, even in a crowd. And as strange as it sounds, fear keeps at arm’s length the people I love the most. It’s a paradox really. I draw them so close I smother them, yet keep them just far enough away that they can’t hurt me; because in the end, that’s what my heart fears the most. Pain.

I don’t want to let fear rule my life anymore. I am praying that God will somehow break through all the fear that has built up around my heart and let me receive His love – His perfect love – so that I can love Him, myself, my family, and others out of a healthy heart. I am asking God to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I am praying that He will “give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me and remove from me this heart of [fear] and give me a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, personalized). I am asking Him to set me free from my prison of fear so that I can experience fully His amazing love. I’m sure He is more than willing. You know, I think He’s been waiting for me all along.

God, I need you.  Lord Jesus, lead me out of this prison. Holy Spirit, be my counselor and comfort. Father, take this fear-filled heart of mine and give me a heart to receive Your love, and then enable me to give it away. Amen.

Peace When I am Afraid

“Peace! Do not be afraid.”  Judges 6:23

At Christmas we celebrate our loved ones with gifts.  We consider the recipient and choose carefully something that will have special meaning or significance to them.  I love to give gifts that I know someone would love, but that they wouldn’t get for themselves.  When God considered us, He chose to send us a gift that we couldn’t give ourselves – the gift of peace. This Advent season we rejoice in His promise of peace in the face of our fears.

One of the biggest barriers to peace is fear.  We have all experienced fear of some kind.  I have a fear of heights. One of my friends has a fear of crowds, another a fear of tight spaces.  Some fears are good for us, like the fear of snakes.  Some are common to most of us as in the fear of the dark.  For some people fear takes on irrational proportions and becomes an unhealthy psychological problem.  We live in a world that breeds fear and causes us to look at others with a question, “Should I be afraid of you?”

There is also fear that invades our minds and hearts – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being alone, fear of death.  With so much to be afraid of, is there any way to be at peace?  Yes, because we have a Prince of Peace and His word to us is “Do not be afraid.”

In fact a search of those words shows at least 76 times in Scripture that we are told “do not be afraid.”  God knows us so well.  He knows that we will become fearful at times, and He knows we need His peace.

How can we have peace when we are afraid?  Psalm 56:3 is the perfect answer: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid.”   The answer to fear is trust.  We can trust God and rest our fears because He is faithful.  His Word is filled with His promises, promises that will bring us peace if we will trust in the Promise-maker.  We have the promise that He will always be with us, as He told Joshua – “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified or discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). We have the promise of His strength – “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  We have the promise of His deliverance – “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose” (Jeremiah 15:13).

We have the promise if His blessing:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

This Advent season hear the angels proclaiming the greatest news man can ever know:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:14 (KJV)

 Jehovah Shalom, the Lord our peace, I have your promises to bring me peace when I am afraid.  Thank you for knowing Your child so well and for giving me the gift of peace.  Amen.

Clearer Vision

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”                Psalm 27:1

 What happens to our faith when our vision becomes clouded by fear and doubt?

In Numbers 13, the Israelites, having been freed from Egyptian slavery, now stand at the edge of the Promised Land.  Moses selects 12 men, one from each ancestral tribe, to explore the land of Canaan. After forty days, they return with samples of fruit – including a cluster of grapes so heavy it had to be carried on a pole between two men.  They declared the inhabitants “powerful and their cities fortified and very large.” While Caleb and Joshua declared, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (v. 30), the other ten spies “spread a bad report. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (v. 32, 33) They saw themselves as piteously small against the enemy who lived in this wonderful land that the Lord had promised to them.

I know this one, because I have spent far too many years looking at the giants in my life through the eyes of a grasshopper.   I am learning the key to overcoming fear – we have to develop clearer vision.  We have to look through eyes of faith.

First we have to have a clearer vision of our God.  When I feel the enemy pressing me, I turn to Psalm 18 where I am reminded that God is “my Strength, my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Refuge, and my Shield.” (vs. 1-2)  He is a MIGHTY GOD! His power is beyond comprehension.  Psalm 66:3 says “So great is Your power that Your enemies cringe before you.”  When I recognize the truth that the power of God exceeds the power of any enemy force or circumstance, I can rest my heart – and mind in Him. He is also my Protector and Defender.  No enemy dares approach me with the Lord on guard. David said in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  The enemy trembles and flees at the name of the Lord.  Learn His Name and use it!

We also need to have a clearer vision of our giants.    The giants you and I fear loom so large and terrifying to us, but how do they compare to our God?  David certainly had the right perspective.  In the famous battle of David and Goliath, the enemy towered over the Israelites at over nine feet tall with massive armor and weapons. (1 Samuel 17:4-7).  Day after day, he taunted the Israelite army,
“This day I defy the ranks of Israel!  Give me a man and let us fight each other.  If he is able to kill me, we will become your subjects, but if I overcome him you will become our subjects and serve us. (1 Samuel 17:8-10) And how did the Israelites respond? “On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” Goliath’s threats had broken the spirit of the Israelite army and they believed themselves powerless against him. Isn’t that just like us?  We become consumed with fear as we focus on our enemy who taunts and defies us.  But the little shepherd boy David looked, not at the size of the enemy, but at the size of his God.  David told King Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” As David approached, with no visible weapon or armor, Goliath cursed him and shouted insults at him. But David responded with spiritual armor and weapons that Goliath could not see, and he said “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! (1 Samuel 17:45-46)” I am sure you know the rest, “David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone. (1 Samuel 17:50)” I want that kind of faith!  I want faith that knows the power of the Lord.  I want faith that is confident in God’s promises to defend and deliver me from all the giants in my life. I want faith to meet every challenge the enemy throws at me with my head held high and my eyes firmly fixed on God.

Finally, we must develop a clearer vision of ourselves-as God sees us.  If you are in Christ, God has declared that you are “His child (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1); sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2); valuable (1 Peter 1:18-19); chosen (1 Peter 2:9); His workmanship(Ephesians 2:10);  His dwelling place (Eph. 2:22); dearly loved (Colossians 3:12); children of light (Eph. 5:8); a holy & royal priesthood (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) – and that is just a small sampling of what the Bible says you are to God.  The enemy will always try to make you feel small and defenseless.  He will always try to attack you with words of condemnation: “Look at you! Look at the mess you have made of your life! Look at your sin! You are worthless to God, He could never love you!”  But you need to know and believe that under God’s loving and protective gaze, you are a priceless treasure, His priceless treasure, and He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, all consuming love.  When God looks at you He doesn’t see your mess, He sees your Messiah.

To stand strong in the face of fear, we must look to our God for strength and perspective.   “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them.”  But how do you look in God’s eyes?  Victorious!

Holy Father, the giants are big, but You, Lord are bigger. Help us keep our vision clear and our eyes “fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  God give us eyes to truly see.