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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

promises of GodJust a quick look in Google yields a number of websites people have created to lay out a full list of the promises of Christ, primarily based on things Jesus said, such as John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [Of course, that verse seems to be a combination verse, a promise and a consequence. Or are they the same?]

Near the end of the book of Joshua, it is written,The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. [Joshua 21:44-45, NIV] Most of these promises dealt with the land and conquering the pagan peoples who lived in those lands. All was fulfilled in that time. But we know how the story goes; not long afterward, the people jettisoned the plan and the covenant once Joshua passed and the last of the generation that saw God’s miracle-working power from Egypt to the promised land.

We are no different.

The words are still out there for us to embrace. The promises are still real and concrete. But we hedge our way, like the story of Eve and serpent, we hear these words instead, “Did God really say . . . ?” [Genesis 3:1b] Really? Did God promise this or that? Did Jesus really mean . . . isn’t it more likely that . . . ” And on and on and on we go, further afield of the simplicity of the gospel, either making it too complicated or too simplistic and in both cases, opening a door for doubt and confusion.

Today, I read on Facebook of a woman who was struggling with someone who questioned the “race” of Jesus. Was he white? Was he black? And so on. Is this a worthwhile discussion? Does it do anything for our faith? Or, is it just a surface issue that bypasses the central truth? Also today, I attended a funeral of a 19 year old daughter of a family friend and my own adult daughter was surprised how the young woman in the coffin did not really resemble the girl she knew. I had to remind Lily, the body is but a shell and it is the Spirit that gives the human body dynamics and life. Hannah was no longer there.

Painting by Jonas Gerard

Painting by Jonas Gerard

So it is with all things of God. The promises of God may appear to be about outer things, land and so on, but in reality, they are about the inner truth, the inner person, the relationship between my “self” and the God who lives in us through Christ. God’s promises are about eternity and living outside and beyond the body, the truly promised land. The enemies we face are the challenges of 3-D life: sin and selfishness, distrust and fear, evil from without determined to destroy the good within.

If only we . . . well, I can’t speak for you . . . if only I could engage fully in the truth of the fulfilled promise. It’s all done, completed from the day of Joshua to the day of Jesus, also a Joshua, who fought for my salvation and won. It is finished.

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regretWhat a pathetic phrase, “if only.” It’s all about yesterday, the milk is spilled and the people whine. Oh, if only I hadn’t said that or done that or gone there or looked there. So sorry. If only I could change it back to the way it was.

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” [Numbers 14:2-3, NIV]

If I hear myself actually use this phrase in regular speech, I’m going to excise it as fast as I can.

This was the Israelites lament in the desert after Moses had sent a representative from each clan to scope out the promised land. Out of all those emissaries, only two came back with courage, trusting God to fulfill the promises. After all, this was the same God who had poured out lamentations about the Egyptians and who rested on the Tabernacle in a cloud by day and a pillar by fire at night. This was the God who had orchestrated the great escape from the Egyptians through the Sea (one way or another). This God had shown God as miraculous and specifically in their cause. Why was this day different? What made the giants and foreigners of the land of Canaan so frightening, so indomitable?

Did the Israelites forget what God could do? Why? The only thing I can imagine is that their eyes became stronger than their faith. What they saw overwhelmed what they could not see. And lastly, the messengers themselves were suspect.

Had the spies who went into Canaan come back with confidence, the people would have followed. Instead, those men sowed fear and discord, questions and distrust. It was those few who did not believe who led the majority astray. And that’s a lesson as well.

Who do we believe? Who do I believe? The Press? The politicians? The blogs?

In some ways, I think it’s my own fault when I am so easily swayed. I am turned when I don’t have enough reliable information. I am unsure when I have not invested in discovery and latched on to the easy answer. And then, what about those trustworthy characters? What exactly draws me to trust in a leader?

I remember how appalled I was the other day when a person I have always admired in politics, suddenly took a turn in a direction I could never have foreseen. Has the person’s character changed or merely his/her point of view. Do I move my point of view along with the person? Or was the person’s change merely politically advantageous or necessary for success or advancement?

The Israelites chose to believe their representatives and in the end, as a result, they lost the promise altogether and were “banished” to the desert for forty years, two full generations. They paid a steep price for their herd mentality.

They were afraid of the unknown future so much that the past, as wicked as it was seemed more appealing. They remembered the foods and some of the minor comforts, but forgot the violence and the slavery. The future is always a surprise. That’s true. But, if we have just enough confidence in God, to believe that our lives are ultimately fashioned by the Spirit, then we should never go back. It’s unproductive to even contemplate it. In fact, it’s Lot’s wife, looking back toward Sodom & Gomorrah.

If only. . . no more. Instead, I will say when.

 

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I was thinking today about the feelings and thoughts of someone on death row. And I wondered how I missed the similarities between myself, while I was still isolated away from God/Spirit/Yahweh, while swimming in a sea of self-manufactured detritus. The sentence is the same. The mega-tube slide relentlessly taking me downhill.

break freeI sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.  [Psalm 34-4-7, NIV]

Once an inmate is on death row, there is no action that can be done on one’s own to stay the sentence. The “help” must come from the outside, others who plead one’s case, a judge who might rule in the inmate’s case, a government official who might vacate the sentence. Salvation is offered. The inmate must choose to accept.

I just say “choose” because it’s not always the case that a person wants to live and it could be that the restraints on that “life” may not be acceptable. You see, despite the reprieve, a convicted criminal who somehow receives clemency will still be bound by a system of checks and balances. Each day and each morning, calls for a choice, to live.

There is a good reason that Moses writes, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20a]

This morning, I attended a prayer breakfast sponsored by our city’s Chamber of Commerce. I find this event so very puzzling as many people attend out of some kind of civic obligation or opportunity for networking and not necessarily for prayer or religious instruction. And yet, the speaker is always clear on the message: God in Christ, the Way, the answer, the hope. It is not watered down. The speaker today was no different from years past. In fact, he called his chance to speak for what it was, “crossover evangelism.” I had never heard the term, but it reminded me of Christian artists who had crossed over into the secular market or country singers who achieved crossover into rock ‘n roll. He was reaching a group that may not have heard a message of reprieve from a life in emotional, relational, or financial chains in such a way.

The speaker, Robert Kossack, is the founder of an organization called Project Crossroad, an organization whose sole mission is to aid youth as they come to one of those many crossroads in life. (Of course, these crossroads happen all along our lives and not just in our teens or twenties.) Kossack spoke passionately and from the heart about his own crossroads and how his choices put him in prison. He, too, was on one of those rapid rides downhill. But through circumstances and epiphany, he chose life in the Spirit of Christ Jesus. And in this place, stopped the spiral downward. My favorite part of his story was when he told of the “walk” he took with a guard in the last minutes of incarceration, a long walk designed for him to remember that place and all that it held (chains and cells and barbed wire and strip searches). The guard insured that Kossack saw these things one more time and told him to “never forget.” And finally, when he had reached the area called R&D (Receiving and Discharge), his family waited for him on the other side. He could see them through the doors. Kossack wanted the guard to remove his chains before he stepped through the door, but the guard commanded him to step aside. And the revelation occurred to him, that the door to the outside would not open until the door to the inside was closed. The only thing that stood in the way was he, himself.

This is so for all of us. Reprieve is offered and we tend to stand in the way of it. We say we want help but then stand in the way of its offer. I am guilty of the same.

The promise is that God will deliver us from our fears and from our prisons. That promise is faithful and true but it is we ourselves who may be missing it. Stand aside for the power of God. Accept reprieve, immunity, and forgiveness.

Choose life.

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Psalm 143 is filled with urgency and no less in these two verses:

hidingplaceLet the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,

    for I hide myself in you. [Psalm 143:8-9 NIV 2011]

I don’t know this kind of urgency very often. From day to day, I live a life of relative ease. There might be emotional upheavals and drama (after all, I have two young adults still living at home with us), but none of these cause me to burrow into the hiding place of God. I do not live in a foxhole as many people do throughout the world today. Instead, for all I know, I may be luxuriating in pot of water on the stove, getting warmer and warmer, but not realizing I am actually dying.

Well, we all are. From day to day, closer each day to some inevitable transformative moment that will take us out of our bodies in an instant or on a journey of pain and disease, a slower but nonetheless equally lethal end. This is part of living, the dying.

There have been several deaths around me of late: husbands of friends, old friends, passing acquaintances, relatives of colleagues, and on and on the list seems to get longer each year. We have a patron who comes into the library every week to look at the local newspaper for one thing only, to check the obituaries. There is always someone she knows, she has lived in this same community all of her life.

Is the shadow of death the only real urgency in a life? Or, is that merely self-serving to the end?

Or, are we to live with empathy for others in their crisis?

No one can sustain the stress of true crisis for an extended time. The body cannot generate enough adrenalin. I could help by if I knew how to envelop this person in need with the love of God, with the touch of authentic human, with the promise of rest. But then, I must really know what it means to shelter in God before I can bring someone else into the hiding place.

Back in my childhood, I was never very good at playing hide and seek. Either my hiding place was too good (and no one could find me so I would come out – who wants to be alone in a hiding place?) or the spot was too easy and I was found right away. Often, I would keep peeking out just to see what was going on around me. Just in case. And of course, this would be another way I would be pulled free from safety.

And there’s the problem, the human tendency to peek. To hide in God works better as a permanent solution, not just in a state of emergency. If I could stay in the hiding place of God, within the Spirit of Christ, my view of the world would be through a completely different lens. I would see more clearly; I would recognize needs in others; I could envelope and invite them in, for the place is large and plentiful. The hiding place of God knows no limits, nor does it include chains. It’s a choice to remain, just as it is a choice to enter.

So, does the hiding place mean I won’t experience urgency and fear and pain? On the contrary, those moments will still happen, I’m sure of it. The difference is in walking out trauma with an ongoing confidence in the Presence: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan” [Romans 8:38, The Voice].

And remaining “in” God. No peeking.

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It is a journey. It has always been a journey. And not just any journey, but a pilgrimage, a long odyssey toward a sacred place.

Paper cut design by Sue Codee

Paper cut design by Sue Codee

Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage,
As they pass through the Valley of Baka [valley of tears],
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion [dwelling place]. [Psalm 84:5-7, NIV 1984]

In YouVersion notes, the valley of Baka is explained this way: “It was nearly impossible to travel this valley without facing extreme hardship and suffering. That is why the Valley of Baca was named because it literally means “Valley of Tears”. Those who traveled this valley did not find relief until they reached their final destination.”

This is the way of the journey we have agreed to take as followers and believers. We can try to avoid this valley, but dangers abound whether we go through the Valley or around it. For this reason, we are encouraged to go slowly, from strength to strength (and not our own, but God’s) so that tears can be transformed into pools of living water.

My own heart complains of the way still. I know why: I keep trying to travel in my own strength. Like a three year old, I keep demanding to do it myself. Me, me, me. But that’s not the plan at all. And until I surrender and trust God to take care of me in this valley, I will slow my own progress forward.

This truth remains, again and again, I say: it is the paradox of our faith. Die to live; let go to hold; love to repay evil; give to receive.

This is the pilgrimage of the heart.

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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, NIV]

Antelope Canyon, Wikipedia Commons

Antelope Canyon, Wikipedia Commons

Three words drove my prayers from this verse: light, stronghold, and fear.

There are so many different kinds of light but they all get similar results: they transform the appearance of a place or thing by illuminating it. Light pushes back darkness. Light is often a reflection of energy. “God is light, and in God, there no darkness at all.” [I John 1:5] Light reveals things that are hidden. Light is no respecter of persons. Light does not judge, Light is.

And apparently, the presence of Light (the Light) gives confidence against the people, situations or causes I might fear.

A stronghold is best described as a fortified place which has been created as the best (and often the last) line of defense. It is like safe within a bank or a tower within a castle. It is built with defense and safety in mind. This, then, is within me as well. There is a location within me that is protected by the Holy Spirit. This place cannot be breached without permission, an open door or window, opened from within. This is where God’s Spirit dwells in tandem with my own spirit.

But fear is also a strong word and it manifests most often through people. It is unfortunate how often I engage people (and my fear) before I engage my place of strength within or before I shed the Light on the situation. This task is to be done daily, hourly, and even minute by minute. Some people call it centering.

I want to stop “reacting” and simply be fully in the moment and allow that moment to be what it is and me to be who I am in Christ. That’s one of the reasons why it’s called “the peace that passes understanding.” That place is not always apparent if I don’t practice being there.

It is prayer from the place of strength. It is prayer of abandon and trust. It is authentic and transparent.

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Photo by Andrea Galluzzo

Photo by Andrea Galluzzo

Pollution is a hot topic. The word itself brings up images of oil-slick waters, trash-strewn woods, and smog-filled air. Pollution contaminates, infects, and even poisons. It moves a place, person, or situation from one state to another, and not for good. So, how is the “world” polluting me? What is this world?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

I’m sure there are reams of paper written by clerics and Bible students all over, and I don’t have the time or the inclination to study this topic. I just want to capture a gut reaction.

The world, in Christian circles, always has a negative context: it’s everything from R rated movies to street violence to foul language. It is sexy clothes and sex-filled images “everywhere.” It’s drugs and gambling and porno stores, it’s sexual orientation and alternate lifestyles. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t line up with the scriptures, according to the folks (and culture and sensibilities) who are reading them. The range of interpretation runs the gambit from the Amish’s “simple life” to left-winger “social justice.”

And there are plenty of scriptures that decry the world in some form or another: John 15:19; John 17:14-16; I John 2:15; Romans 12:2; I Peter 2:11-12; Galatians 3:22.

But perhaps, there’s another way to look at it that might clarify some things. Maybe it’s less important to figure out what the world is doing to us . . . to me . . . and more important to figure out what, in me, is being polluted. Certainly, there are things that I do to my physical body that are not good for me: diet, alcohol, lassitude and inactivity, sleeplessness, disease, etc. But is this my biggest concern or should it be the pollution of my soul? When I invited the Christ spirit to indwell me, then I was (and am) calling forth all that is good to reside within. I am uniting myself with God through Christ. That’s a light, a jewel, a radiance.

What pollutes my spirit? Evil and unproductive thoughts, judgments of others, NOT love, fear, and disdain. It is only the strength of my inner life that can repel the outer influences. Pollution is most dangerous when it seeps into the bone and marrow of a thing, when it permeates the insides. This is where my vigilance needs to be above all. Of course, there will always be controversy on the path that leads to my soul. I know that.

All the same. I’m tired of trying to discern who’s ‘world’ is worst. When I put on all the trappings of being a good Christian, when I followed all the rules, and when I kept myself away from the “appearance of evil,” I don’t believe I was any better off than I am today.

Instead, I want my spirit, my life with the Holy Spirit, to be so robust, that none of those things matter. It is in this way, that I can be neither “in the world” nor “of the world.” And so, I will return to the straightforward words of Jesus himself, “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” [Matthew 23:26b]

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