Beach time!

Beach time!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seeing the wind

(keep in mind, this is immediately following the feeding of the 5,000 with the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish)

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water.
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "Why did you doubt?"

Matthew 14:25-32

This is a story I have been familiar with for many years In fact, I'll bet you anything that I've seen this story played out on a flannel board in my younger days. Truth? I think in my heart I always judged Peter for being doubtful and for lacking the faith that I thought he should have. However, these days, I think there are times when I relate unnervingly well with Peter. Here is what I notice. First, take note that they have just been a part of the miraculous dividing of the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes to feed 5000 (plus women and children!). Jesus removed them from the crowds while he dismissed the crowds and went to pray. Next, the immediate reaction of all of them was one of fear (assuming the figure was a ghost and not Jesus). Next is the point where I have taken a new perspective on this story. Peter is the only one who has enough faith to even yell out to Jesus when he identifies himself. Not only does he call out but he also takes the dive (literally) and steps out of the boat to walk to Jesus. I would have loved to see the other disciples faces at this moment. Did they try to stop him or were they so paralyzed in fear that they watched with wide eyes? Did they wish that they were the ones to step out or were they glad that Peter did instead? Either way, there was strength in those steps out of the boat.

Peter walks on the water towards Jesus, with his eyes on his messiah. But when he saw the wind he began to sink. Oh, how many times have we had our eyes on Christ, focused, spending time in His word, and then we see the wind and begin to sink? The wind can be a job loss, a diagnosis, family strife, or any kind of loss. For just that split second we take our eyes off of Jesus and see the wind and we immediately sink. We cry out to our Lord just as Peter did, "Lord, save me!". What does our messiah do? Does he leave us there to learn a lesson about faith and courage? Immediately Jesus. Immediately Jesus reaches out his hand, catches us, and strengthens our faith. Immediately Jesus.

Perhaps I've been too hard on Peter because I have clearly been here more times than I would care to admit. How do we keep our eyes on Jesus and ignore the wind? That is what this year is about for me. Learning to ignore the wind and look out to Jesus, all the while knowing that when I do fail, immediately Jesus reaches out his hand to me and rescues me.

May we all keep our eyes on the messiah and ignore the winds that howl around us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An invitation to be tested?

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious
See if there is any offensive way in
and led me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24

Oh, what an invitation is this. The freedom to invite God to test me, know my anxieties, and purge out any offenses sounds a bit daunting. But the payout is huge: being led in the way of the everlasting, the way of Christ. God already knows our hearts and He already sees every anxious thought. But, I think before we can grow and be released from our strongholds, whatever they may be, God wants an invitation to step in and work. He will never force His way in our hearts and our lives. If I forced someone to share their life with me, under threats and intimidation, how genuine would the relationship be? Yes, I might know some things about that person, but it would be a relationship based on fear and misuse of power. God wants all of me but He wants me to want to give it freely, without condition or obligation. How willing am I to put my heart and my anxious thoughts under God's microscope? Am I willing to be tested by God? What if I knew that going through all of that would make my heavenly relationship more intimate and my earthly relationships more fulfilling and purposeful?

We all want to fully grasp the peace of Christ. He offers it to every single one of us. We just have to be willing to move ourselves out of the way to get to the place of surrender. It's not easy but the more time I spend with God, reading His word and talking things out with Him, the closer I get to Him. The closer I get to Him, the more I am able to get perspective on His purpose and calling for my life. The more clearly I focus on His purpose and calling on my life, the less I fear. The opposite is also true. The less time I spend with God, the further I move away from Him. The further I move away from him, the fuzzier my perspective becomes. When my perspective and calling become unclear, I lose purpose and begin to fear. Interesting, no?

I have gone through seasons in the past in which I committed to praying scriptures as my prayers. I think this one may be mine for a while. I don't know what God has for me day to day but I know he has a hope and a future for me. The verse that follows Jeremiah 29:11 that I referenced several days ago says this:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity.

I love it! Perhaps that will be tomorrow' "No Fear" verse...
Love and blessings!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The stronghold of 'people pleasing'

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9

How many of us have a fear of not being "enough"? Enough for our spouse, children, extended families, employers, church, and friends. You name a situation or relationship and we can come up with a way that we can convince ourselves that we insufficient. Why do we do this to ourselves? As women, I think that we are the worst offenders in this area. (If you are a mom, we've coined it as "mom guilt"). I think it is the way many of us are wired by God-created to be relational, which often can turn into people-pleasing. No so many years ago, I had convinced myself, the people-pleaser, that it was a good thing. On a positive side, I tend to be a peace maker (please don't be mad at me or anyone else!!!) and on the negative side I tended to be a feelings stuffer (if I tell you how I really feel then you really won't like me!!!).

 As I was working through a bible study several years ago, the term "people-pleaser" was amongst a list of traits to circle regarding your relationships with others. I circled it quickly and proceeded down the list. As I read further, I was slightly taken back (ok, maybe a little offended) that people-pleasing was being considered a stronghold. What? As in, it was placed in the same categories as jealousy, anger, worrying, and pride. I'll admit that it took me a while to submit to the fact that the drive to please people was a stronghold that could interfere with my relationship with Christ. Ultimately, my strive has to be to please Christ and Christ alone. If I am walking in this obedience, then all else becomes a side note. Does this mean relationships are insignificant and we ignore life's obligations and the hurting people around us? Absolutely not. It does mean, however, that when I focus on pleasing my God, then the actions overflow to those around me. I don't have to try so hard to be what everyone wants me to be. If I am His and if I am what my Abba Father wants me to be, then I can live Him out to others. In addition, my fulfillment and feelings of self-worth won't be reliant on other people. I will be completely satisfied in Him and Him alone. I will always be "enough" and He will never let me down-always "enough" for me. His grace will be sufficient for me and His power will be made perfect whenever I am weak.

"My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
Psalm 73:26

In the same way that Paul talks in Philippians about striving towards the prize, this is my marathon to run. I desire to find my worth and my "enough" in Christ alone and to know that He is my "enough". To remind myself that God is my portion and the strength of my heart.
Oh, Lord, may I learn quickly.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The peace that is standing right in front of us

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

(Jesus appears to the disciples) While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you".
Luke 24:36

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said "Peace be with you!"
John 20:19

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"
John 20:26

Take a look at these verses and think about the commonalities amongst them. I highlighted the spoken words in red to be clear as to who was speaking. The common denominator is, of course, the words of Jesus. In my own life, as I follow Christ, I feel as though I try to attain peace throughout difficult seasons. I strive towards peace as though it is a trophy only for the best, most sanctified of Christians. There are days when it can be a full time job! I am learning through my studies over the last several months that this is not a quest to eliminate fear in my life. It is actually a choice to accept the peace that God offers. As a believer, I have full access to God. "For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18) The sacrifice of the death of my Jesus allows complete access to God. I can talk to Him anytime I want and, here's the best part...He listens! Even when I feel like God is being silent, I have the heart and head knowledge that the scriptures tell me that He hears my every prayer. **Reading Ephesians 2:11-22 can bring more clarity to the reconciling of us to God through the cross.**

Where does this fit in with my "quest for peace?" Here is the reality. Take a look again at the verses above. All four of them have the physical presence of Jesus in the scene both prior to his crucifixion and directly following his resurrection. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he wasn't telling them to go and find his peace. He was offering it to them on the spot. The peace he was offering was his very presence, standing in front of them. We are given that same peace through the Holy Spirit, our Counselor. John 16 tells us that Jesus talks to the disciples regarding his death and the sending of the Holy Spirit : "It is for your own good that I am going away. Unless I go away,the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." (vs 7). So, when we are followers of Christ and have a relationship with Jesus, we too have his physical presence with us. His presence is in the form of the Holy Spirit that is given to us when we turn our lives to him. Do we have to seek out peace? No. It is standing with us, saying 'Peace be with you!' His peace is with us. Every day. Every moment. No need to wear ourselves out seeking peace. Knowing that the resurrected savior is standing in front of me, telling me to feel the scars in his hands, how can I fear? 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A different view of prospering

'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'
Jeremiah 29:11

This is probably one of the more recognizable verses in the bible-one that believers go to when feeling alone or when life seems to be a series of closed doors. This verse comforted me in teenage and young adult years when my life was before me like an open highway. Adventures, changes...who knew what would happen around the next bend? I had the assurance that my unknowns were not unknown to my God. A career choice? God's wants to prosper me. Dateless nights in high school? God has a plan for my future. Hurt feelings? God offers hope.

13 years after graduating college (sheesh-I am feeling old...) this verse speaks to me in a slightly different way. I'm a little more tired, I've lived through some amazing times and some tremendous hurts, and I have a slightly different world view through the lenses of some experience. God has carried my family through some big things and he has truly worked them together for our good. Sick newborn? God has plans for his future and ours'. Sacrificing for me to be a stay at home mom? God has plans to prosper our family.  Husband laid off after transitioning to being a single-income family? God has a hope for us and plans not to harm us. Such a humbling list of God's timeline over the last few years and are some of the more vibrant threads in our testimony as a Christ-following family.

All of this to say that it is amazing how the word of God is truly alive and breathing and meets our current needs. This verse spoke to me in my teenage years and early 20's differently than it speaks to me in my mid (early?) 30's. :) Previously, it opened my world to big experience and now it brings my world into a manageable place of peace and security. I do have a distinct feeling, however, that God is working to break open my quiet sense of comfort and security. I believe that we are ready to be stretched and this verse will carry us through any uncertainty that may come. This verse will breathe new peace into my life throughout these times.

God's plans for us go through stages of change and times of stability. May I never become complacent in the quiet times and may I never fear God-ordained change.

Love and Blessings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jumping without a safety net

You dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

1 John 4:4-6

I've not written in a week or so. I set out on this blog with the intention of writing every day and I hope to get back to that. On the same hand, I don't want to force what God is leading me to. So for now, as God leads me to a a scripture I will write.
I was reading 1 John 4 this evening, prompted by a text from my precious friend (thanks, MacKenzie!) and came across this passage regarding the lies that we often believe and how to weed through them. As I read this verse, it struck me that so often those that don't know God have a difficult time understanding a believer's drive to honor God. It is so much easier to speak "from the viewpoint of the world" as this says. People around us find that a bit easier to swallow. But it is always such a balancing act of showing God's love with our lives and words but also not coming across as legalistic or exclusive.
In regards to living without fear, how do we define this stronghold? I can clearly see through these verses that it is a spirit of falsehood, designed to hold us back from God's best intentions for my life. Think about what fear and uncertainty has held you back from in your life. It is very difficult to step out on faith when your safety net can't be seen. It might seem crazy to the world to do something in faith when it doesn't make sense on paper. However, this "viewpoint of the world" doesn't take into account the God who is our safety net. People who don't know Him can't see His protection. I want my family to make decisions based, not on the viewpoint of the world or perceptions of others, but rather on the faith and knowledge that when we are being obedient to God's plans for us, He will be our security and He will hide us in the cleft of His rock. I don't want to live our lives safely, without risks, when that means we can ultimately be missing out on God's best for us.
As our family earnestly seeks God's best for our lives so that we can ultimately honor Him, I want us to live in a way that loves others and shows the spirit of confidence that can only come from God. He has already overcome and He is greater than he that is in the world. May my fear and uncertainty be overshadowed by the confidence of being in God's story.
Perfect love drives out fear...The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Lord, I give you this year. I know you have a purpose in my studies on fear and I see the way it is intertwining with your plan for our family. Guide us with confidence and the assurance of the One who has already overcome.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What? I don't have to convince God to love me???

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2

I spent many years worrying about disappointing people-parents, friends, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone influential in my life. This was not something imposed by these people, but rather self-imposed. Naturally, I transferred this feeling to my spiritual life. Meaning, I was desperate to avoid disappointing my God. This played out in my life in some positive ways and some less than positive ways. On the positive side of things, I was compelled to follow rules and guidelines set before me. I was (and am) a perpetual rule-follower. :) However, I often followed spiritual and life guidelines set before me in an effort to gain favor from God, although I didn't recognize that at the time. As a result, it placed me in a performance-based relationship at times. I have been a believer since I was a young child but it took me until my adult years to more fully understand the nature of God's love for me. In fact, when we had our children, I began to understand that nothing they can do wrong can cause me to love them any less and no matter how wonderful they are, they can't make me love them more. I just love them to a full capacity. That is how my God loves me and loves you. He just loves us.
This assurance gives me peace and and my faith gives me ready access into this grace. This peace in the assurance that Jesus gave when he died for all of the sins he knew you and  I would commit in my lifetime. The take away? I don't have to fear falling out of favor with God. Instead, I am compelled to please my God out of love for Him. And, when I mess up, my sins are covered through my blood of my Jesus who loved me before he even knew me. Peace, peace, and peace. I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Love me! Approve of me!

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O LORD.

Psalm 139:1-4

Ok, we're going to get real here. I'm going to tell you my second biggest fear (my hands are sweaty even thinking about it). My second biggest fear is a person's perception of me. Lame, right? You thought it might be something dramatic. Now, you are wondering what the biggest one is. We'll hit it another day. :) Anyway, I worry about a person's perception of me. It will be the thing that I agonize and worry over.  Why? Maybe it's a drive to appear as though I've got things under control. Sometimes, however, it just falls apart. There are times that I cannot control someone's perception. That is where I struggle. Maybe it's my tendency towards people-pleasing that God is working with me on. Perhaps I need to rely more on God to form my identity instead of my identity being formed by relationships with others. God is growing me on this and the growth pains began this week with some timely 'opportunities' to help me grow. :)

I came across this verse is Psalms and I wonder why I am sometimes more concerned about a person's perception of me rather than God's perception of me. Why do we seek the approval of people when our God is our ultimate Redeemer and Friend? Oh, my friend, how I have struggled with this all week. God wants all of us-the good and the bad. He wants my service and my insecurities. He wants my obedience and my shortcomings. He wants my successes and my failures. It is so much easier to offer God my good sides only and to think I am hiding my struggles. I am learning to offer myself to Him entirely. He made me. He knows where I fall short and He can use my transparency to help others. <even as I type this I have the urge to highlight and delete because what will you think of me when you are done reading this?>

It all comes down to complete reliance and surrender. If we had it all together, then we would rely only on ourselves without a need to surrender to anyone. This verse reminds me that God's got every situation that I encounter but more importantly, He's got me. He knows me. He loves me even when I fail. Check out the lyrics to this song that just came to my mind as I was writing and take a listen here:

Oh Lord You've searched me
You know my way
Even when I fail You
I know You love me

Your holy presence
Surrounding me
In every season
I know You love me
I know You love me

At the cross I bow my knee
Where Your blood was shed for me
There's no greater love than this
You have overcome the grave
Your glory fills the highest place
What can separate me now?

You go before me
You shield my way
Your hand upholds me
I know You love me

You tore the veil
You made a way
When You said that it is done

And when the earth fades
Falls from my eyes
And You stand before me
I know You love me
I know You love me
(At the Cross, Hillsong)
What a beautiful picture of God's love for me. Why do I worry? When my heart is obedient, God is pleased. He already overcame the grave, He can certainly handle my fears. This song is my prayer of love and surrender. 
I know you love me, Lord. You go before me. You shield my way. Your hand upholds me. I know You love me.  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Joy, peace, and the accuser

For the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Romans 14:17

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

...For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night.
Revelation 12:10

At first glance, this might seem like a random assortment of verses but there is a powerful connection between the three of them. In the first verse, we are told that the Holy Spirit can offer us righteousness, peace, and joy. Righteousness doesn't mean we are perfect but when we are covered by the sacrifice of Jesus, God sees us as righteous children. Peace and joy most definitely go together. In my life, when I am feeling a lack of peace and surrender to God, there is a serious deficit of joy. It's a really miserable feeling! The next verse tells us that God's hope gives us joy and peace.  It appears again. The connection between joy and peace is becoming more clear.
Next, we look at a picture of the enemy. In the last verse, did you catch what Satan is called? The accuser. He accuses people, causing unrest, anxiety, and fear. What does he accuse you of? I have heard accusations of insufficiency and unacceptance in my life. We all have our own, though. Some people's accusations may be from their past mistakes that are so difficult to release (even though God has already released them if you've surrendered them). Perhaps it is the accusation of failure or inadequacy. The enemy will do what he can to keep us away from serving God and loving others as we are called to do.

Beth Moore says, "So closely are peace and joy linked that Satan will most certainly steal our joy if he can undermine our peace. Striving, churning, tossing, turning, bitter, burning, never learning..." (Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit).
Satan's desire is to take away our peace, joy, and hope and he is an expert at his job. Because if he can accomplish this in our lives, he completely immobilizes us into being ineffective, miserable, joyless people. We all have our times (or seasons) of this. I had a day like this today. My fears of insufficiency and unacceptance were whispered (seemed like a yell to me, though!) in my ear. Today I struggled with a lack of peace. Only when I stepped back and realized tonight through reading these verses did it occur to me that the best way for Satan to render me ineffective at my calling is to freeze me in fear. Today I failed in my fear test. But, the important thing is to learn from it, repent from my lack of faith in my God who desires only the best for me, and move forward in joy, hope, and peace. Maybe you can learn from my failure and respond to your accuser with the strength, hope, and security in God.

I will not fear. His promise is true. My God will come through always. Always.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

We are not defined by previous generations

'So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant.; do not be dismayed, Israel,' declares the Lord. 'I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you', declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 30:10-11

God brought me to this passage this evening in my search for the next verse. As soon as I read this one, I just knew that this was what God had for us tonight. Something that has long been on my heart is the issue of generational sin. Both my husband and I deal with this, although in differing degrees. He has long struggled (since childhood) with not being defined by his verabally and physically destructive father, who was defined by his father, and so on and so on. I have struggled with not being defined by a sense of loss and brokenness in my family that occurred in my adulthood. It has taken both of us many years of prayer to work through these painful situations but there are times when it is still felt.

So, the big questions: Where do we go from here? What do we do with all of our hurts and rejection, especially ones that have a generational stronghold? I feel like God is reassuring Jacob, telling him that despite all of his and Israel's past fears, insecurities, and hurts, he can have peace and security once again. We are not forever held in bondage by the hurts that happened before we were born and consequently throughout our lives. So many families are hurting and they perhaps haven't realized the power that these sins have had in their family in generations past and present. However, as believers in Christ, we can allow God to keep future generations from hurting like perhaps we have. My husband and I are determined, not that our children will never experience hurt (it is inevitable at some point in this fallen world), but that they will not sustain the same generational hurts that we have absorbed.

We are a new creation in Christ and God makes all things new. May we not be held within the fears and insecurities that the past can heap on us. Remember, we are adopted sons and daughters of Christ. He chose you to be his child. Rest in that and fear not.

Love and blessings.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mountains, waves, and a quaking earth

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46:1-3

Well, that it quite a visual. Stop for a moment and read the passage word by word and picture the scene in your mind. We have all, at some point, felt overwhelmed. The best thing the enemy can do when we are in a time of trouble is to add fear into the situation. Fear is crippling and paralyzing and when we are entrenched in fear, we cannot move forward. The enemy stands next to our ear and whispers our biggest insecurities. And I am sure that I can't be the only one that believes those lies about myself too often. The lie that is whispered in my ear is one of unacceptance and failure. It is the thing that, in my past, has delayed my obedience to what I knew God was calling me to do.

Perfect example: Years ago, I was impressed by God to get a women's bible study off the ground. I had been looking for one in the area that I could go to (I was a stay at home mom the time). I had been attending one that was 45 minutes away but in the midst of my second pregnancy, I was having some complications and was told that I needed to stick close to home (and my bed) for a while. So, all of a sudden I felt like an island. I was new to the area, lonely, and really knew no one. God began working on my heart to begin and facilitate a bible study. It was all ready to go. I had a location, a start date, and a Beth Moore study all picked out and even workbooks purchased. It was probably August at this point.

It was about this time that the enemy began whispering the lies in my ear. I began to feel insufficient, inadequate, and unprepared. Who was I to facilitate a bible study? No one was going to show up and if they did, they would realize that I had no idea what I was doing! Well, the enemy won for about 3 or 4 months. I delayed, delayed, and delayed some more. Finally, I was able to understand that I was actually being disobedient in what God had asked me to do. We had our first meeting and 7 or 8 women all showed up, none of whom knew each other. These women became my dearest friends. We ended up meeting consistently for 4 years! Many of the ladies that were in the first group came to every bible study for all 4 years. We were also blessed to have many precious women join us as we went along the journey.

The enemy knew my greatest fears of rejection and unacceptance and he was determined to stop the good work that God had in store for our group. Was I perfect? Not even close. Did I have all the answers? Nope! Did I mistakes? Too many to count. But so many times, we would discuss things over coffee and breakfast that I just knew were ordained by God. I knew at the time that this was a rich and meaningful time in my life.

My point is this. Had I listened to my fears, as perfectly valid as they felt at the time, not only would I have been not fully obedient to God, but I would have missed out on some of the best moments of those 4 years. We may feel like everything in us is resisting what we know God has for us. But, He is our refuge when things crumble. Many times He places people in our lives that can represent refuge and strength for us as well. When you feel like your world is crumbling, seek God first and foremost. But, next, find a group of people that can hold you up when the mountains are quaking and the earth gives way. Let us not become frozen in our fear, whether we are struggling with obeying God or in the midst of crisis.

Blessings for you and your family as we move into a new year.