Beach time!

Beach time!

Friday, December 30, 2011

This battle is Mine, not yours

...This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God's. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions. Stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow and the LORD will be with you.'

2 Chronicles 20:15b, 17

Today we get a two-for-one deal because this passage has 2 'fear nots' from the Lord himself. :) God brought me to these verses specifically last year as I was struggling through some stress and worry. In all of my fruitless effort to work out a situation, stress about its outcome, and anxiously await an answer, I was on my way to being all consumed. One morning I was up early spending some time with Him before the house was awake and I was really struggling. Now, there have been a couple of times in my life when I knew beyond any doubt that God was whispering in my ear. When it happens, it is so overwhelming that it is almost an audible voice. This was one of those times. I clearly heard while sitting on my couch:
 'This battle is not yours. It is mine.'
I knew that what I heard was God and that it was truth. I opened my bible and had to do some searching to find this passage and read the whole thing through. I immediately felt a sense of peace and understanding. The situation still had no resolve (and wouldn't for several months) but what did I have to worry about? God was fighting it for us!

Even when the battle seems insurmountable and even when the outcome seems inevitable, I rely on the truth that the Lord goes with us and even before us. He fights for us. As in, He doesn't need me to create a plan or worry about the result. He's got this. All I have to do is choose to be a part of God's story.

Much love and blessings to you.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are the fruits of the spirit even possible?

I have been under a fair amount of conviction lately that my propensity for fear and worry is, at the core, an issue with my faith in God. You may have already known this to be the root of fear but it wasn't something I had fully recognized until just recently. My fear says that my ability (or really my inability) to control a situation is bigger than my God. My worry says that if I dwell on something long enough, I can come up with a way to maneuver around the thing I  fear. My anxiety says that I really think that my God needs my help to figure things out.

Well. Where do I go from here? I know my God  is big but do I really understand His ability to truly hold me and my family in his palm? I don't think my finite mind can fully wrap around His size and infinite nature but He did design us with the capability to bear the fruits of the Spirit, but only if we allow the Spirit to overwhelm our nature, or our flesh. Love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness, FAITHFULNESS, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22). I memorized these as a young child but I struggle with them every single day of my life. I desire to display each of these fruits but I wonder if I desire it enough. Do I desire for Christ to shine through me if it means that I am no longer visible but only Him? The bottom line is that if each of these qualities shines through consistently, then God gets all the glory and we set ourselves aside. It can't be all about us and God at the same time. This is not easy stuff. Here's the thing, When I do life on my own without God's help, not only am I fearful and anxious, but I am the opposite of each of those fruits of the Spirit. The opposites of these- love (hate), joy (misery), peace (anxiety), patience (impatience), kindness (meanness), goodness (selfishness), faithfulness (self-reliance), gentleness (harshness), and self-control (indulgence)-paint the picture of a miserable person.

But with God, we can display the love of Christ with each of these qualities consistently. Does this mean God expects me to be perfectly sunshiney all the time and just artificially "Praise the Lord"-ing every catastrophe that comes my way? Certainly not. Sometimes life is just hard but He wants us to be genuine, transparent, and all together reliant on Him. Won't life be easier when I finally grasp this fully? Imagine the daily stresses that could be loaded on His shoulders and not ours. Think about the financial worries that could be handed to Him instead of fretted about long into the night. Just imagine the peace.

Oh, Lord, decrease me so that you may be increased. I want to desire you more than I desire control. Thank you for loving me so perfectly when I am full of imperfections.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The cover of feathers

He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day." Psalm 91:4-5

Yes, I know that I have covered this verse already but I am feeling its strength this week. We have had an eventful Christmas around here and I want to take this opportunity to give thanks to my God who gave my family refuge and cover. We were hit by the tornado the Thursday before Christmas. We were not home at the time and were unable to return until the following day because our road in front of the driveway was covered in live power lines that had come down in the storm. As we walked up to our property, this verse instantly popped in my head. The tornado literally touched down all around our house-30 or so trees uprooted , some of which are mere feet from the house, car was hit and totaled, and barn roof and fencing struck by uprooted trees. As I looked at the damage, I felt a sense of God's provision and protection. I don't know why He chose to protect us or why the tornado looks as though it literally made a U-turn around the back of my house. All I know is what I see. It is not all that often that I get such a thorough visual representation of His protection and covering. In that moment I got tears in my eyes about "what could have been". In fact, as I sit in my sunroom typing now, I can see the potential for damage and destruction right outside my window.

Several things got my attention about that night. First, we weren't at home. If we were at home, we would have been fine but it would have been intensely scary for us. I already have a 9 year old that struggles a bit in severe weather with worry and fear. Secondly, the verse from Job came to mind: Job 1:20b (NIV) "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." The Lord chose not to take away from us anything that couldn't be repaired or fixed but He certainly could have. 

I am fully aware of His covering of feathers right now and want this verse etched and placed over my doorway so that we are reminded of His daily grace and mercies even when things are difficult. Would I feel this way if we were suffering from severe losses? I don't know. But I do know that I am loved, protected, and cherished by my God.

More tomorrow (now that I have internet back) :)
Love and blessings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The character of Joseph

I haven't written in a few days. Every time I sat down to write the next post, I drew a blank. I felt like it was better to pause than to manufacture something that was without God's leading. So, I am back with a new 'Fear Not"

...he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:19-20

Whenever I think of the story of Christmas, the person on the forefront of my mind is Mary-her favor, her sacrifice, her obedience. I often forget about Joseph. Joseph had his entire life before him. He was pledged to marry Mary and was settling into his future when he hears of Mary's "condition". Common sense would have told him that being conceived by the Holy Spirit was insane. Common sense would have told him that he should respect her dignity enough to let her go quietly. Fear told him that what Mary was telling him was impossible. I'm sure he struggled with his own reputation as well as Mary's and his own sense of pride. Life would have been easier and more convenient to go with his own feelings in this situation.

One problem: God told him through an angel what he was to do. He is clearly told by an angel of God to marry Mary, name the child Jesus, and raise him in his home. So, he made the hardest decision he had ever made in his life. He obeyed God, going against all common sense, opinions of friends and family, and his own feelings of fear.

It turns out that many of Joseph's fears were realities. His friends and family surely doubted their story and life was harder than it would have been without this calling to obedience. He had to watch his wife give birth in a barn, escape to Egypt for several years, and raise a child he knew he would lose in adulthood. But, oh the rewards of obedience. Mary and Joseph's life would never be the same again.

I want to remember this when I know that a calling to obedience will mean hardship. But even amidst that hardship, living in the very center of God's will provides a life-sustaining peace.

Watch this video that shows some scenes of "The Nativity Story". If you and your family haven't watched this movie, it's an incredible way to anchor the Christmas season.!
Love and blessings.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Building an altar of peace

So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace.
Judges 6:24

I know this doesn't specifically tell us "fear not" but I am thinking about the reference to building an altar to the Lord of peace. How many things have I built altars to in my life? My need for approval, my insecurities, my selfish desires,  and my fears. Each of these and dozens more are altars in my life-things that I place before my God. How can I built an altar to my Lord of peace? Perhaps that's what this blog is about for me-building an altar one day at a time. One post at a time. One brick of God's promises at a time.

Yes, I do believe this is my altar being built. I love when God reveals something amazing to me as I am typing. I sat down tonight, tired, with hands sticky with cookie dough, ready to pound something out and finish up my project in the kitchen. Once again, God has shown up. I am going to go and pray about this altar I am building to my Lord of peace. I have a distinct feeling that this altar will replace many of those in my life. What is your altar that you have built? Maybe an altar to the Lord of peace can replace those in your life as well.

Love and blessings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shelter, love, and refuge

He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.
Psalm 91:4-5

I am feeling burdened tonight with some tough situations and what better way to feel comfort than to look at the way that God provides shelter, love, and refuge for His children. This passage does not indicate that no harm will ever come to us or those we love. But rather, that when we are in His refuge, we can have joy even in the painful times. He will be our shield. We can hurt but we don't have to fear, remembering that fear does not come from God.

There is no better shelter for a young bird than his mother's feathers. God knew what that young chick would need from the moment it cracked out of the egg, vulnerable and needing the protection of a parent. God knows we, too, need protection and love. The difference with us is that we so very often leave His protection with the belief that we can survive, even thrive, without His care. Unfortunately, we sometimes get hurt before we realize that we do, indeed, need his protective covering. The amazing thing about God is that He doesn't begrudge us coming back time and time again. He would rather we stay put but He is so glad to have us back that He welcomes us without hesitation.

Lord, I want to have the humility and strength to stay beneath your covering. There I will find peace, protection, and a covering that protects my heart from fear and worry. Thank you for loving us into repentance. Thank you for being so good that we desire You.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Heroes of my childhood

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalms 27:1
When I was a small child, I admired and read about strong women who loved the Lord. You might think I was odd when you hear the list but they were women that showed a strength of spirit, given by her God. Maybe I was odd but their stories deeply impacted my little life.  
Puritan Fanny Crosby wrote great hymns such as "Blessed Assurance", "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home", "Praise Him, Praise Him", "Rescue the Perishing", and "To God be the Glory". Fanny was blind, yet composed poetry, taught, lobbied to government officials, and wrote these famous hymns.
Corrie Ten Boom was another one whose story I read over and over. She wrote "The Hiding Place" and several others that talk about her experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. She managed to survive but lost most of her family in the camp before liberation. Her family was held here as punishment for hiding a Jewish family.
There were several others (Joni Tada and Helen Keller) but there was one that I was enamored with. Elisabeth Elliot was married to Jim Elliot (whose story was told in "Through Gates of Splendor"-the book-"End of the Spear"-the movie). Jim Elliot was brutally murdered by the tribe with whom he and his missionary buddies were trying to make contact with. Their daughter, Valerie, was 10 months old at the time of the murder. Elisabeth and Valerie moved to the very village whose men murdered her husband and dearest friends and lived there for 2 years and showed them the love of Christ. Much of the tribe ended up believing in Christ, including several of the tribal leaders that directly murdered her husband.
Why am I sharing all of this? Each of these women suffered tremendous adversity. I can only imagine the bouts of fear that each of these women struggled with. It's easy to look at a 2 paragraph summary of a life story but to live it out must have been incredibly challenging. Could you imagine bringing your 10 month old baby girl into a village that had heartlessly killed your husband? But with God.  Can you imagine living through the daily terror of a concentration camp, watching your family perish, and still love your God? But with God. Could you imagine being a blind woman in the early 1900's lobbying to Congress about the rights of disabled people to have an equal education? But with God.
All of these women had huge "thems" to fear (look back a few days to read about the "thems" that we fear) but with God they made a huge impact on this world. Maybe I was an exception that I was reading these books at a young age but they made a huge dent on my little soul. My heart loved God from an early age and these women just struck a chord in my soul.

When my fears make me feel inadequate, insufficient, and insecure, I know that the 'the LORD is the light of my salvation...and the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom should I be afraid?"
Thanks for indulging me on my walk with some of my heroes in the faith. If any of these names are unfamiliar to you, I can link some amazing books on here to get you started. Here is the site for the "End of the Spear" movie. Amazing story.
Thanks, Keshia, for the timely verse today. Keep 'em coming! :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Adopted out of slavery

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

There are so many people that believe that having a relationship with Christ is a like joining some sort of country club. Exclusivity, rules, and membership define a 'church experience' for some. This misconception causes people to focus on the church rather than on the relationship with our Father. If this performance-based Christianity was a reality,  'becoming a Christian' would just be something that would bring about more bondage and anxiety and worry about not meeting up to standards. The truth is, receiving the spirit of Christ gives us such freedom-freedom to mess up and be forgiven, freedom to drop our self-imposed feelings of perfection, and freedom to be the rightful daughter or son of God.

When I read my own words, I wonder how I can ever doubt, fear, or worry again. I mean, I am the daughter of God. He is my adopted father, not because He is stuck with me, but because He chose me-adopted me. There is not a more beautiful picture of being secure in my place than knowing the Creator of the world called me by name. He knows my struggles and doesn't love me despite them, but He just loves me. Period.

He chose you too and all you have to do is accept the inheritance. Accept the fact that God wants to provide security, peace, and comfort in your life. He has called you by name, my friend. Life will happen and we may struggle with our fears but God goes before us in everything.

Call on Him. Tell Him your hurts. He knows anyway but He just wants to be your abba, your daddy.

Love and blessings.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What now?

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

I am seeking God on something right now that is WAY out of my comfort zone and that brings up feelings of timidity and, you guessed it...fear. I don't want my fear to hold me back from stepping out in something that God may want me to do but it is so easy to think of all the reasons why I shouldn't step out. But, there is one huge reason why I should. People need to see Him. Quite literally, however, when I start to work through all of the logistics of this potential plan, my palms get a bit sweaty.

Where do I go from here? Looking at this verse, power, love, and self-discipline are the polar opposites of fear and timidity. When I fear, I am not allowing the power and love of God to flow through me. When I am timid and anxious, it can be a lack of self-discipline inasmuch as I am not capturing my thoughts for Christ. I certainly don't have all of the answers and I have many more days (348!) in my "Year of No Fear" but I do know that since I started this project, in my moments of fear God immediately highlights my lack of faith and I am able to recognize it, repent,  and dwell on these scriptures that I am finding. It is such a process and perhaps this pull on my heart to work through these verses day by day was in part a preparing for some big plans. Only God knows. For now, I rest in the fact that I don't need to know the answer to every question and that God has my steps ordered. Tonight, I rest in that. And I rest in that more easily than I was able to 2 1/2 weeks ago. I can't wait to see where God has me in another 49 1/2 weeks.

To God be the glory.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wherever You Set Foot

I promise you what I promised Moses: 'Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you...No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.

Joshua 1:3-5

The first thing that strikes me about this verse is the number of promises God makes in a very few sentences. Promises of success, strength, comfort, and companionship. These are promises that God is making to Joshua who succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites. I'm sure that Joshua was beyond intimidated by the sandals he had to fill. I can't imagine being the leader that followed after the example that Moses set. Insecurity and anxiety must have filled his heart as he thought of the daunting task of leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

I love the reassurance that God gives Joshua by telling him to look at the history that he knows. Everyone knew of the faith of Moses and the faithfulness of God towards His chosen people. Joshua was facing a large and looming unknown in front of him and God directed him towards examining how He had consistently proved himself with Moses. After He reminds Joshua of the past, he begins stating his promises for this new leader. These promises are strong, specific, and leave no room for doubt of God's favor. Don't we wish that God would talk to us in this way today? But we have something that Joshua didn't have-the recorded history of all the fulfilled promises of God toward his chosen people. The bible is our way of examining the faithfulness of God. When the fear of the unknown looms ahead of us, how do we know God will never fail us? We can look at so many people in His word that God consistently granted favor and grace towards, even when those same people failed God over and over again (Abraham and David are 2 perfect examples).

We can also look at the history in our own lives. Even when life is a struggle, we can look back at those times and see God's presence that perhaps was difficult to find in the moment. It is our history with God that can and will bolster us for our uncertain future in this world. What do I have to fear when I know that God will always never abandon me or fail me? It gives perspective to my fears when I look to the promises in His word and examine His faithfulness in my life.

Much love and many blessings to you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Do the work

David also said to Solomon his son, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all of the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.
I Chronicles 28:30

Part 1: 'Do the work'. It doesn't get much more straightforward than that, does it?How often do we talk about the work, even pray about the work, when God wants us to simply DO the work?Often this work is risky and requires a pouring out of ourselves that makes us feel vulnerable and sometimes just plain worn out. I need to do the work. Period.

Part 2: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged for the LORD God, my God, is with you'. Oh, sometimes the work is discouraging, especially when we focus on the circumstances in front of our eyes. Many times the work has a "them" that we fear (see yesterday's post for the explanation of the poor grammar usage!).

Part 3: 'He will not fail you or forsake you'. As in never. As in the whole world can disappoint you and God is still pointing us to the purpose of the work He has put before us.

When we are worn out with the work that God has for us, we also need to learn to rest and take the Sabbath that God intends for us. This can renew our body, mind, and attitude. When I try to pull myself up in my own strength I tend to wear myself out twice as quickly. The renewal of God is strong and He doesn't even need a weekend to accomplish it! :)

Just about every single Monday morning I walk into my classroom with the plans to be the best 7th grade teacher I can be-kind, compassionate, and eager to show the love of my God to so many. And then 30 minutes later they are streaming by my desk and I am reminded that I can't do it in my own strength. When I try to do it on my own, I fail miserably.I had several of those failure, humbling moments this week. In fact, I sort of feel like my week was punctuated with a variety of minor missteps, all of which created a feeling of failure-a huge fear of mine.

So what do I do? My urge is to tuck into my weekend and forget about it. However, I know that God calls me to learn from the week-to think, pray, and renew. What is the purpose of messing up if we can't be humble enough to have a teachable spirit and learn from our mistakes?

I hope and pray we can find renewal this weekend and Christmas.
Happy Friday!!!

Love and Blessings.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feeling tired?

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

How many days do we feel weary while fulfilling our calling? Sometimes the task can feel daunting. I often feel inadequate for the responsibility put before me. For years my single focus each day was to be a mom at home with my kids. That was where I clocked in (well, maybe I didn't clock in since moms don't really clock out!), ate my meals, and fulfilled the call that God put on the heart of me and Jeremy when we started a family. I went from being at home with the kids for 8 years to teaching, first in a private school and now in a public middle school.  They seem to be very different callings on the surface but the reality is, they are not dissimilar. Both require a pouring out of myself that requires more than I can do completely on my own.

I think any time we are doing God's work (with our families or out in the 'world'), it can be difficult. But, it is so rewarding to know that God has a purpose for my life and that I am trying daily to fulfill that well. Sometimes I do it well, sometimes I fail (today was a 'sometimes I fail' kind of day for me). In the end, though, the point is that God is the One who goes out with us. I want to remember that when I key into my classroom or my own front door.

Who is the "them" that you are afraid of? Being the grammar person that I am, I cringe at that sentence. But look at the verse. Do not fear or be afraid of them. Identify your "them" and ask God to show you His purpose with their lives. Chances are, it is someone or something that is a challenge in your life. Maybe your "them" is a feeling you carefully try to avoid, like rejection or loneliness. Remember, He goes with us and before us in all things.

Oh, Lord, may I always remember that "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine." Isaiah 55:8

Remind me of your purpose and keep it close to my heart, thoughts, and lips, Oh Lord. May I remember that I represent you. That is the biggest purpose of all. Thank you for the promise of never ever leaving or forsaking us.

Love and Blessings!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Takes hold of our right hand

For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.'
Isaiah 41:13

I was raised in wonderful church environments throughout my childhood and teenage years. My family was always active in ministry and worshipped together. I would skip up to children's church after the hymns (the time when the pastor taught a lesson to the kids while they sat on the stairs leading up to the stage). I have heard many bible stories taught via flannel board (which I LOVED, by the way) and participated in countless VBS weeks. I went to Sunday School and 'big church' every Sunday, discipleship training every Sunday evening, and Wednesday night dinners/prayer meetings. What's my point? Most verses that are referenced in church I have some familiarity with. I usually need insight on them but I have at least absorbed them at some point. This verse? Never ever heard it. Not even one time.

I am completely intrigued with this verse in Isaiah. I love the imagery given of God holding our right hand. As a mom, my mind goes to the hundreds (probably thousands) of times I have taken my kids' hands. There are several reasons why I might take my son's hand. The first one that comes to mind is safety-parking lots, busy malls, Walmart, etc. This is the typical mom death grip that I promise you a 300 lb gorilla couldn't escape from. Another reason I hold a hand is to show love and care. It's a gentler touch-one that is not worried about safety and escape into danger. Just a pure expression of love. Finally, I might grab a hand firmly to help him accomplish something difficult or get up when he has fallen.

So, let's look at the comparison. Doesn't God hold our hand for all of the same reasons? A tight grip of safety, a warm touch of love, and a firm grasp for help when we fall. I am thinking of the song "Friend of God" as I write this: Who am I that you are mindful of me? That you hear me. When I call. God is our  Protector and Guide, our Comforter, our Redeemer. Why does he hold our hand? The same reason I hold my boys' hands. It is simply because He loves us. It is not out of obligation or duty. Oh, friend, He loves us.

With God holding my hand how can I be afraid?

Take a listen to the song

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A kind word

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.
Proverbs 12:25

Haven't we all seen this play out in front of us? We can witness someone that is under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure being spoken to in a kind way and it's like their burden lightens instantly. I see this in my middle schoolers so often. One kindness can lighten their spirits. It doesn't undo their stress and hurt but it sure does assure them that they are cared for. I know how I feel when something is weighing on me and the difference it can make when one person takes the time and effort to check in with me and offer a kind word and a hug.

I want to be the person that offers the kind words and helps to lighten a burden for a friend. I also want to be the person that is transparent enough that those who love me know when I am in need of a kind word.  When I am consumed with my own little world and set of circumstances, I fail to see the needs around me. The needs around me are overwhelming at times but there is always time to be kind. We live in a sometimes very unkind world and as children of God, we can be that kindness. What better way to point people to Christ than to show those fruits of the spirit that we struggle with every moment of every day it seems-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. When we show care for someone, it ultimately shows them the One who unconditionally loves them and desires to show His kindness to them.

Tomorrow I will put this on my desk so that I am reminded every day how much I can build up those who are struggling with just a moment of grace, truth, and love.

Love and blessings.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A promise of trouble?

I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

I believed for many years that I lived a pretty easy life, and I did. Part of the lie that I believed was that it was due, at least in part, to my being obedient to Christ. Now, obedience does bring peace and it keeps us out of messy life consequences that are the result of sinful behavior but it certainly doesn't guarantee a life without hurt and pain.

Early in my adult years, I experienced some devastating changes that occurred in my family that brought about loss and confusion. I took it particularly hard. I felt as though we didn't "deserve" the hurt that we were handed. (Oh my precious Lord, may I never receive what I "deserve") I wasted many years on my misplaced feelings of anger and hurt towards the very God that sought to comfort me and give me peace.

 I understand now that Jesus is telling us that we are not guaranteed an easy life. In fact, he promises us we will definitely have troubles. If the teaching of Christ stopped at that point, it would be depressing, huh? But Jesus goes on to tell them to keep their heads up. He has overshadowed all of that with his love. He has already overcome.

His Word does, however, guarantee a peace if we are willing to walk with Him-step by step, moment by moment. I'll be honest with you. I'm still not sure how to do this but I know in my heart it has everything to do with surrender-surrender of our fears of loss, rejection, hurt. And I know that if Jesus said it, then it is absolutely true. It is possible to have peace in the times of troubles, heartbreak, and devastation. Peace, mind you, doesn't mean we have to understand what we are going through or that we can't struggle with it. Peace is knowing that God is on the throne and we are not (how messy my life would be if I was on the throne!). Peace is knowing that God will never let me down when the humans around me fail. Peace is knowing that one day I will be with him forever and that this life is like a vapor compared to the eternity we will spend in worship.

I hope these verses are helping you as much as they are helping me. Thank you for all of the encouragement that you have given me. It helps me to stick with it.
I am praying hard as we walk through this journey together.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17

Sunday, December 4, 2011

May it be...

I am going to piggyback on yesterday's blog. So if you haven't read Day 9, scroll down and read it first so this makes complete sense. Our pastor spoke this morning about the very verse I talked about last night-Mary's struggle with the news the angel was bringing her and her ultimate choice to surrender.

"I am the Lord's servant", Mary answered, "May it be to me according to your word."

What does this verse specifically have to do with fear? Surrender. Nothing can be scarier than the thought of relinquishing control (especially for those of us who like to control a situation). Surrender can feel like the ultimate giving up of control. It is!

I remember when we first had Parker 9 years ago. I had always known and understood the need to acknowledge the fact that Jeremy and I were here to care for him on earth, but he really belonged to God. God simply chose us to care for this little baby and to raise him in obedience. I had this fear (it actually made me sweat to think of it) that if I told God that I understood that Parker belonged to Him and not us, that something terrible would happen and God would take him away from us. So, I fought that acknowledgement for many years. I felt as though I couldn't give God the option to take him from us if I didn't voice what I knew in my heart. Do you see my attempt to control a situation just brought undue fear and anxiety? Honestly, my heart beats faster right now as I sit here with the fear of losing a child. I have several precious people in my life that have experienced this tremendous loss. One, in particular, I watched walk through this heartbreaking process with surrender and grace. Ultimately her peace came in her complete surrender.

Mary was given an incredible way to surrender and serve God with her heart, body, and entire life. She sacrificed her reputation and potentially her relationship with Joseph, her fiance. She chose to surrender but she chose not to surrender begrudgingly. She chose instead to put aside her plans for God's plans. All because God chose her in His unmerited favor.

Hasn't God already chosen us in His grace to do all of these things? But, oh, surrender feels so difficult in the moment. We feel as though we are giving up so much. And maybe we are. But maybe it will change the course of our lives and other people's lives like it did with Mary.

Love you, my friends. May we surrender every moment, every day. Such peace in surrender. How can we fear when we know our lives are in the palm of our Father's hand?

Take a moment and read Mary's song during her visit with Elizabeth, her cousin.

And Mary said:
   “My soul glorifies the Lord
 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
   just as he promised our ancestors.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Finding favor

But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.'

Luke 1:30
Obviously, we are all up in the Christmas season. You have probably done your shopping. Me? No. I will be one of the last minute, go after payday 2 weeks before Christmas, kind of people. It's all a part of the holiday fun, right? :)

When I was young and I would hear the Christmas story being read at church during the few weeks leading up to Christmas, this was the verse that always stuck with me. Even as a little girl, I wondered how Mary had found favor with God. She always struck me as a quiet, reserved young lady (which I have never been!) that sort of flew under the radar. Maybe it's all that serene pondering she did. She obviously honored God with her quiet, unassuming life of obedience. I wonder if she was surprised that her little life had gained her a visit from an angel of God. At this point all the angel had told her was that she had found favor with God and that the Lord was with her. I would have loved to seen the expression on her face. She was such a young girl (I think around 13 or 14 maybe?) and God knew that she was ready for the moment that would change her life and the world forever.

Mary's first reaction was fear. So, this thing we struggle with is a common denominator for everyone. Even when Mary is being told she is favored by God, she is terrified because this is angel appearance is clearly a new experience for her. This tells me that fear can come anytime. We usually associate fear with the struggles of life but it can creep up on us even in the midst of unexpected good news. When the angel tells her that she will conceive and give birth to Jesus, she questions it and then accepts it in obedience. The angel even has to validate it by telling her about Elizabeth conceiving in her old age. Even when God is granting favor on us, we often have some emotions to work through. We may experience fear, uncertainty, and hopefully acceptance.

I want to spend this next year as I work through these verses looking for those situations that start as perceived fear but turn into favor from God. Sometimes I may have to look really hard. Sometimes it may be more obvious. Change is always hard for us but I want my heart to be as Mary's: "I am the Lord's servant...May it be according to your word."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lying down in peace

"When you lie down you will not be afraid; when you lie down your sleep will be sweet." Proverbs 3:24

What a perfect verse for a Friday night of an exhausting week! Our days are so busy. Between waking up at 5:00, getting a family ready for the day, teaching 7th graders, and coming home to a busy, bustling family, when do I rest? When weeks are excessively busy, I find it difficult to sleep. Throw in a few stressful situations and I am in trouble. Do you find that you can push thoughts off all day but at night the fears creep in? I was even like this as a child. If I was upset about a situation, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. My mom knew that if I called her in after bedtime that I was mulling something over that was bothering me greatly. Some things never change!

When the house is quiet and I am alone with my running mind, it can result in anxiety. Perfect example: Last year I woke up in the middle of the night, panicked that I forgot to pay the water bill. Now, it is 3 a.m. and nothing catastrophic is going to happen. But, my thoughts swirled out of control and I wasn't able to go back to sleep. I was a wreck the next day at work-tired, irritable, and no good to anyone. (oh, and I had paid the water bill earlier that month) That is a silly example but don't we all have moments like that in which we fear something that we are powerless to fix in the moment?

I want my sleep to be sweet, refreshing, and allow me to be ready to serve God wherever He has me the next day. If the enemy can derail us from that sweet sleep, he wins for the day. It is very difficult to serve Christ when we are overly-fatigued. Trust me, this steps all over my toes because I am a night owl. I definitely enjoy my evening time, but at what cost? Is it impairing my ability to serve God and others well?

Please Lord, allow us to rest well tonight so that we can serve and love others well tomorrow.
Remind me to bring my anxieties and worries to you before my head hits the pillow. Please grant us sweet sleep. Thank you for loving us well.
Good night, all!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Calm in a storm

He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26 (NIV)

In order for me to fully understand the meaning of this story in the bible, I needed to go back a few verses. New disciples were joining Jesus at this point as he was in his years of ministry and travel. That evening Jesus was healing demon-afflicted people, curing the ill, and generally ministering to the masses. After he was through, a curious crowd gathered and Jesus told his disciples to get him across the lake for (I imagine) a bit of peace. They got in the boat and an exhausted Jesus fell asleep. A storm blew up and the disciples woke him up, saying "Lord, save us. We are going to drown!". (vs 25) He rebukes the disciples, rebukes the waves, and completely amazes everyone. "Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him?" (vs 27). The disciples had just seen him that same evening drive demons out of 2 men and force the demons into pigs who jumped off a cliff to die. That is not something you see everyday. Yet, when they encountered a storm that directly affected their lives, they feared the worst. They panicked.

How many times do we watch Jesus work in our lives and the lives of others? We are completely amazed as we watch people ministered to. We turn around, a storm blows up in our lives, and we completely panic. Save us Lord! We are drowning! My goodness, how many times I have prayed a form of that prayer. Many times the Lord has raised his hand and calmed a storm in our lives and I am always astounded by his power.

However, Christ doesn't always "calm the storm" in the way that we would like. Sometimes really terrible things happen and our fears come true. Our boat capsizes in the storm. Then what do we do? Do we assume that Jesus wouldn't wake up like he did that evening on the boat and so he slept through the storm? That he looked at the thunder and lightning and left us to weather it alone? These are the times that our faith comes hard. We have to know that we know the character of God-that He loves us and wants the best for us. Even more than that, he desires our obedience. In some of the very worst storms of life, obedience may just mean obeying His command to rest in Him. Sometimes that's the most we can do.

Just remember that even in the worst storms of life-the hopeless diagnosis, the financial crisis, the unexpected crushing loss-Jesus is not sleeping. He is calming storms around us and inviting us to rest in Him. His shoulders are broad enough for our anxieties and fears and he wants to carry them for us. Grow my faith, Lord!

Love to you and see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Consider the raven

Have you ever had a day when you struggle with feeling 'less than perfect'? That was my day.It wasn't one thing-it was everything. I'm sure it's a combination of factors but, nonetheless, it was a rough day. When those days happen, I feel like the enemy whispers into my ear all sorts of ideas regarding value and worth. As in the opposite of what my God tells me in His Word. My Father tells me I am valuable; the enemy tells me that what I do doesn't make a difference. The Father tells me I have a calling to be a light in the darkness; the enemy tells me 'it is what it is and it will never change'. It is ironic that I went to bed last night knowing what verse I was going to focus on today and today was a struggle. Isn't that how it goes? So, here is the verse:
"Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than the birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" Luke 12:24-26
When I think about a raven, I don't conjure up an image of a pretty little song bird with beautiful feathers and a gorgeous voice. I mean, look it at. What value does it add to my life? But here's the thing, God loves that raven and cares for it simply because He made it. How much more does He love us-who are made in His image! I have immeasurable value. You have immeasurable value. Thank God my view of myself doesn't determine God's view of me. And about the worry (you knew I would get there, right?): God's will is going to prevail regardless of whether I consume myself with anxiety or just come to peace with the fact that He is on the throne and I am not. He is sovereign and I am loved. He is my Father and I am His child. Some days He just knows we need to curl up in His lap and try to rest. May we all rest today in Him.

I would love for these posts to include any discussion. You can comment here or on my facebook page. Love to you all. I am praying for anyone reading these verses-that God would use them to shape our lives.

**this was the song playing on Pandora as I was finishing this blog up. Perfect!

"We will overcome. By the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. "

Listen to the song "Overcome" here:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Difficult questions with no easy answers

"Then Jesus said to his disciples: 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.' " Luke 12:22

As I prayed today about the verse for tonight, I wasn't sure where He would bring me and this verse came to my attention in my reading. Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of worry and a bulk of it was said directly to his disciples. This is one that I've heard many times before; in fact, I could have probably written it from memory as I am writing this. How can we possibly live out this type of directive? How can we not worry about our life, what we will eat, our body or what we will wear?!? :) We have been talking about all-consuming anxiety these past few days and Jesus covers all of the areas of fear and anxiety in this one verse.
He goes on to say in verse 13 that "life is more than food, the body more than clothes". Jesus obviously knew that the disciples needed to eat and clothe themselves. Again, was their worry about food and clothing taking their eyes off of their true purpose? I wonder, when he refers to worry, does he mean that we shouldn't focus on these things in an unbalanced way? An unhealthy fixation on any of these areas would take our focus off of God-who knows our needs even before we know them.
But, as I sit in my warm house on a very cold night (I even see some snow falling outside my window!), I wonder how this pertains to families that don't have a warm place tonight. I'll be honest with you. I don't have a satisfying answer for that. I know there are students in my middle school tonight that do not have a warm bed to sleep in. How do we make sense of God telling us not to worry while acknowledging at the same time that there are people whose lives are a mess and they truly do not have enough food or clothes to care for basic needs?
We live in a messy, fallen world that is hurting. The only way that I can be a servant to that hurting world is if I take my eyes off of my circumstances and put them on Christ. When I am consumed with worry and fear about my own life and daily (often significant) needs, I can't see beyond my stress to see the pain in front of me. Perhaps this was Jesus' way of telling us to look past our own hardships so that we can minister to others. Life is truly not about these things (food, clothes, etc). We are here to love God and ultimately love others unselfishly and unconditionally.

Oh, Lord, take my eyes off of my stress and put them on the world. I want to see the hurting the way that You do so that You are glorified through me. I want to be a light for you in so much darkness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Proud to praise God

"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose words I praise-in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?" Psalm 56:3-4

Ok, that is the NIV version which is my normal go-to bible but I LOVE the Message for my study time as well. Here are those same verses in it:

"When I get really afraid I come to you in trust. I'm proud to praise God; fearless now, I trust in God. What can mere mortals do?"

Apparently David wrote this when he was captured by the Philistines. If you go back and read the entire chapter of Psalm 56, you can see that David really struggled during this time. He is angry, he feels defeated, he feels victimized. But at the end of the chapter he thanks God for delivering him from death (not from being captured, mind you) and says that God did everything He promised He would do. All he can offer God in that moment is his "thank offerings". Sheesh. I've been in many situations, none of them even close to being taken prisoner, and I don't know that I have ever thanked God in the exact moment of stress and anxiety. He is thanking God FROM prison, not when he has been delivered. But, even David had to work through a lot of emotions to get there.

Is it hard to praise God when we feel defeated? Have we ever sat in church and wanted to feel the 'right' emotions but we are just struggling? I think we have all been there. So,what do we do when we feel this way? We want to trust but we are not sure how. I think that is where this verse and many of the others that we will study come into actual practice. Sometimes when we do not know the words to say to God, we can take a verse like this and pray it to Him. This verse works perfectly because it is a prayer being called out to God in the middle of a fearful situation.

When I start feeling fearful, I often have to consciously stop myself and focus on one verse and pray it over and over. I promise you, there will be an unexplainable peace that falls on you when you do this. He wants us to rest in Him.
My presence will go with you and I will give you rest (Exodus 33:14) **thanks, Suze :)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A way out of anxiety

Ok, this day is a tough one. Well, it's two-sided. The verse is one of the most encouraging ones in the bible that I have latched on to but it is also, I believe, one of the hardest commandments to keep. Here goes...
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6

Ok, deep breath. Here we go...
Before I had truly meditated and prayed over this verse, I thought that God probably didn't want us to worry because it's not good for us but I certainly didn't view it as an actual commandment. As in not an option. But if something big is going on in my life, isn't it my right to worry myself to pieces over it? Who exactly am I affecting if I am feeling anxious? I mean, it's human nature right? What if it is my personality to be a worrier?
These are all of the things I've struggled with as life happens and fear and anxiety creep in. But here's the deal as I see it. When I worry, it is my (really terrible) attempt to control the situation. And when I am trying to control the situation, who am I not giving control over to? You know the answer...God. He is in control regardless of whether we hand it to Him or not. It is a matter of whether we are going to walk through the difficulty with God or without Him. We either accept His peace or live with our anxiety.
Ok, second part of the verse is just as difficult in many ways. The Message sums it up like this: "...Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good , will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."
Anytime I put this into practice and choose to go my God, my Father, in prayer, I get this sense of peace. Has the situation been resolved? No. Can the worst case scenario still happen? Yes. But, when I center myself with my Christ, He eases my fears. He clearly tells me that I am His and He is mine. He is my portion-exactly what I need.
So, sometimes I do this the right way and bring my fears to God immediately. More often, I do things the hard way and put my emotions, my family, and my body through unnecessary troubles. Back to our default switch, making a conscious choice to approach God with our worries. He knows them anyway and it builds our relationship with Him when we trust Him enough to say "I can't do this without You".
Much love and more tomorrow.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Do not fear-easier said than done!

"So 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." Isaiah 41:10

Isaiah is one of my favorite books in the bible. This love was prompted by an indepth Beth Moore bible study I did with a precious group of ladies in which Isaiah was one of the main books used. It has such rich nuggets of truth throughout the book. How many times (more than I can count) do I feel so weak and beaten down just from walking through every day stuff? Don't we have days where we just feel like we really can't handle one more thing? Sometimes it's a bunch of built up aggravations, while other times these feelings are based on something catastrophic. Regardless of why I feel this way, I end up feeling week, insufficient, and useless to anyone. It is at this moment that I have a choice to make. Will I default to fearing the unknown or resting in Christ? Too often, I choose to fear.
Recently, we had a ton of unexpected bills that hit all at one time-medical bills, a speeding ticket (me-grrr), car tags, etc. Just life. My gut reaction (and my reason for starting this verse search) was to fear the worst. Now, I KNOW that God has always carried us and provided what we need (not what I want, mind you) and I KNOW that he holds us but my emotional response was fear. Why? Because even though I trust God, the reality is that I feel like I have to have a handle on things to have peace.
I found this verse recently in Psalms.
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago" (Psalm 77:1).

So, I will choose to remember how God has upheld me in the past and I will choose to be helped and strengthened by God because I clearly can't do it on my own.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fear, love, and punishment

I have never felt prompted to start a blog before but God has been impressing on me the stronghold that fear has in my life and so many others, particularly women. I had heard recently that there are 365 forms of "fear nots" in the bible. I decided to find one for every day of the next year. I think it will be easy at first but will become more challenging as the weeks and months move along. My first thought was to do an internet search (I'm fairly sure that someone has compiled some sort of list at some point) but I know the digging in the Word will be to my growth and benefit. I would like to challenge some readers to dig and discover along with me, the hope being that fear will no longer be my default reaction to difficulties in life. I would love to see this become a place of encouragement and hope. I will post verses and a short commentary, thought, or prayer. Please join in and share your thoughts. I'll put the coffee on :)

The first verse I came upon was in 1 John 4:18
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

I am familiar with a similar verse to this but the part about fear and punishment intrigues me. When something difficult happens in life, my default switch is almost always fear. The thought of that being associated with punishment really makes me think. I'm not sure I have a handle on it yet but I think it goes back to my old way of thinking which is this: If I do good things, God will love me more ('bless me' may be a more comfortable "churchy" phrasing) but when I neglect something or mess up, he will love (read:bless) me a little less. It has taken me until just a few years ago to have to forcefully change that way of thinking. I wonder if the two are related? A performance-based relationship with Christ and fear. I always have to remind myself that nothing I do can make God love me more and nothing I do can make God love me less. I think that's all my little head can take in for today. But I will end with this: my desire is to be made perfect in love, isn't yours?