Category Archives: Faith

Do We Have “Following Faith?”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

When Jesus asked his disciples to follow him, it wasn’t something new.  From the beginning, God asked people to “follow” him.

He told Abraham (then Abram) to leave his homeland and go where God led him. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1)

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abraham journey

He led the Israelites out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.

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pillar of fire

The thing is that people often weren’t great followers.  One case in point is the Israelites.  God tried to lead them through the desert, but they kept complaining.  When Moses went up on the mountain, they created an idol and worshiped it.  Once they got to the Promise Land, they didn’t believe they could take it.

But then there were Joshua and Caleb.  They were quintessential examples of how to follow God.  Let’s look at Caleb.  After scouting out the Promise Land, he reported, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Caleb and Joshua

Joshua and Caleb

Caleb got it, when so many others didn’t.  God said about him, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me fully, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)

Caleb had incredible faith.  But God described him, not in terms of his faith, but in terms of the way he followed.  He followed fully, or as some translations say, wholeheartedly.

That really got me thinking about the correlation between discipleship and faith.  Could it be that the reason Caleb had incredible faith was because his entire heart was set on God and his entire life was centered around God?  His heart wasn’t pulled in other directions, or sapped by love for other things.  And that meant that, to him, God was HUGE and all powerful.

It makes sense to me.  The more we get our needs met by something else, the smaller God becomes.  And the more we go to God as the real source that will meet our needs, the bigger he becomes.

We need to have what I am going to call following faith, the kind of faith that comes from following God fully.

It’s pretty convicting. Out of all the thousands of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were able to take possession of the Promise Land.

“Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’”  Numbers 32:11-12

Following faith is a big deal to God.

Now I’m seeing what Jesus said in Mark 8:34 in a whole new light.  Of course he asks for self denial and commitment to the point of dying!  Only that will produce following faith.  And if Joshua and Caleb needed to have following faith in order to follow God into the Promise Land, how much more will we need following faith to follow Jesus into heaven?  How much more will we need following faith to be Jesus here on earth, and carry out the Great Commission?

So how is my faith?  Hmmm, let me check.  Do I believe God will work when the obstacles seem like they’re too much?  Do I believe God is ready to do something amazing in my life?  As I think of my recent prayers for our church, for people who are in tough situations, and for myself, I have to admit that I’m far from saying, “Let’s go take that land, for we can surely do it!”

This past week I attended a totally cool event.  A global charitable organization, HOPE worldwide, was presenting a Civil Rights pioneer, Fred Gray, with a Lifetime Service Award.   Gray lives in nearby Tuskegee, and the awards ceremony was held there.

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Fred Grey with HOPE CEO Robert Carrillo. (Photo: Mickey Welsh/Advertiser)

I was excited that I was asked to compose and send out the press release to promote the event.  It was a fun challenge to write it and get it to the proper individuals.  But then I needed to call and follow up by actually talking to the members of the media.  Oh, this I dreaded!  I procrastinated.  I made excuses.  I tried to tell myself we’d be fine without it.  And it really hit me how little faith I had.  If I thought  God was working in amazing ways, it would have been easy to make the phone calls.  But I was afraid that the newspaper and TV people wouldn’t think this story was as big I thought, and would feel like I was bothering them.

The end of the story is that the Spirit worked, and I did make the calls, and we had great media attendance!

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But it was a wake up call to me that my faith needs to grow.  After studying this out, I’ve been asking myself, “Is my faith small because I’m loving other things too much?”  You know what the answer is?  Yes!

I think part of the problem is that I’m so comfortable in my lifestyle that I don’t want to put forth the energy to act in accordance with more faith, and go out and “take the land.”  Just thinking about God doing incredible things makes me feel tired.  I just want to stay in my little cozy nest of routines.  It’s like there’s this tether of comfort holding me down.  Trying to pull away feels like I’m fighting against something sticky.

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Yeech, I need to repent!

How can I do that?  How can we develop more of a following faith?

  1. Go to the world less. What is that called?  Oh yeah, self denial.  For me, this means going less to the things that numb.  It means watching less television, because I can see that I’m becoming addicted to Hulu zone out!  I’m learning to, instead, go to God more when I’m tired and emotional.  “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” Ps 62:5
  2. Make God bigger.  We need to remind ourselves often how HUGE and all powerful God really is.  Praise God daily for all of his incredible qualities.  Pray impossible prayers. knowing he can answer them.  Find verses that magnify the Almighty.
  3. Take leaps of faith!  What would we do differently if we really believed God is working in amazing ways?  We would jump off our cliff of comfort.  We would take action to help bring about those things we’re praying for and dreaming about.
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My daughter Celeste jumping off a cliff.  (Her Facebook cover page.)

As I attended the awards ceremony for Fred Gray, and visited the civil rights museum there afterwards, I was deeply impressed.  How different the world would be if men like Fred Gray hadn’t stepped out to do what they could.

“As a teenager in Montgomery, I saw problems that needed to be corrected,” Gray said in his acceptance speech.  “With a lot of help along the way from a lot of people, including divine help, I believe we have been instrumental in changing the landscape of America.”

Gray is a godly man who didn’t shrink back in fear, but lived what he believed.  Surely that is an inspiration for us all to do the same.

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Gray conducting a tour of the Tuskegee History Museum.  (Photo:  Mickey Welsh/Advertiser)

Fred Gray and Me

Fred Gray and me.

 

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Filed under Discipleship, Faith, Mark

The Battle to be Kingdom Minded

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The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”  They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”  Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”  He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:14-21

You know, I think I’m pretty spiritual, until I am in a different environment, away from my usual routines.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to California to help my dad and stepmother, Mom C, while she was in the hospital.

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I had good intentions of doing all kinds of great stuff while I was there.  I planned to text friends and encourage them in my free time.  I found myself reading a book instead.  I planned to get on the computer in the evenings and work on the church newsletter, but slid into the comfort of watching TV with my dad.  I wanted to have good conversations with people there, and sometimes said what they wanted to hear, instead of sticking to my convictions.

It was good for me to be reminded how hard it can be to stay kingdom minded.  Right now I can sympathize more with sisters who live with unbelieving husbands, people who work all day in a worldly atmosphere, and others in challenging circumstances.

I say all this because I think that being kingdom minded is what this passage in Mark is all about.  Jesus had one way of thinking.  His disciples had another.

The disciples cared about food.  Jesus cared about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod — the effect of false teachings and hypocritical lives.  He knew that Satan was always working, trying to get people away from a pure heart and faith.  Later in the chapter he rebuked Peter, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Then he told his disciples, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Being kingdom minded means being more concerned about the soul than the body.  It’s realizing what is really important.

The second thing that impresses me about this passage is that Jesus was so confident that God was going to take care of him.  It wasn’t even on his radar to make sure and take along bread.  He wasn’t at all worried  that they only had one loaf.  He had great certainty that God would provide for their needs.

Being kingdom minded really is the conviction that if we seek the kingdom first, we don’t have to worry about our physical needs.  (Matt 6:33)

This was a great thing to be studying while I was in California.  I remembered it when I felt like I was getting a UTI, and instead of freaking out, I just kept on going and trusting in God.  I remembered it when Mom C was about to be sent to the rehab center and we didn’t know what that would be like.  I told her, “God’s taken care of you this far, and he’s going to keep on doing it,” and we went forward.

I remembered it when I got with my friend Ashley.  Now that was a serendipity!  I happened to text her before I came to California, and mentioned that I would be in San Diego.  She responded, “I am there too!” It turned out that she was doing one of her medical school rotations at the children’s hospital there.

ashley and I

So Ashley and I got together for dinner.   I shared with her about this verse, and how it can give us confidence that God will provide for our futures.  For her, that means that when she graduates, God will lead her to just the right residency and just the right church where she can have great spiritual relationships.  For me, it means that God will lead me to the best way to use my time in the future, something I’ve been praying about a lot.

And here is the best breakthrough I had about how God takes care of us.  My father and I had a very nice time visiting and talking.  One conversation we had was about how he provided child support for me after my parents divorced when I was eight.  He said that the agreement was that instead of paying just a flat monthly amount, he would pay a lower regular amount and then pay for everything I needed — clothes, my flute, my braces, etc.  As I thought about this, I realized that this is how my father has shown his love to me over the years.  He lived in one state and I lived in another, so I saw him twice a year and talked on the phone, but it didn’t feel like he was involved in my life as much.  But he was pouring out his love for me by providing for me.  Realizing that made me feel so warm inside because for all those years I had just taken for granted that my needs had been taken care of.  I hadn’t really seen the love behind it.

Daddy and me!

And my greatest insight was seeing that God is the same way.  He loves me like a father, by providing for my needs.  I am feeling more loved by God!

The third thing I see about the passage is that Jesus seriously expects his followers to be kingdom minded.  He totally got onto his disciples for not understanding what he was saying about the yeast of the Pharisees.

That always seemed harsh to me.  But then I remembered what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? .  .  .  pagans run after those things.”  (Matt 6:25, 31)  That’s a strong statement.  It means that when his disciples had tunnel vision about the bread, they were acting like pagans, like base unbelievers!

What about us?  Do we have tunnel vision too?  Where is it focused?  On our job, achievements, home, security, relationships, leisure pursuits or retirement?  On politics or issues?

This verse came to me last week:  “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”  What a scary verse!  It implies that most believers aren’t going to make it to heaven.   For those of us with faith, the bad influences of the world are always working on us.  Satan is using all these things to leech away our faith and convictions.  He doesn’t have to come up with a fancy new weapon to use against us.  He can just rely on the influence of the stuff all around us!

We probably don’t even see it happening.  That’s what is so scary about the story of the disciples and the loaf of bread.  They were oblivious.  Surely that’s why Jesus was sharp with them.

Jesus knows that it is essential for us to continuously fight for our heart, mind and soul!

“There is a battle we have to face every single day.  There are weapons we have to pick up and be ready to defend ourselves with — every single day.  To live in this world and not allow ourselves to be bullied and enticed by a mindset that is not biblical, we have to be seriously engaged, and seriously on our guard.”  (Lisa Chan, “You and Me Together)

And that is what was a little clearer to me when I was in California.  It would have been so easy to give into the comfort and let God drift to the back burner.   I had to really push myself to be even a little kingdom minded.

Yet I am so glad I did, because doing so gave me the greatest rewards.  You know, like the disciples, we think we need the bread of the world.  But what we really need is to look to God, who provides the richest fare — things that are good, satisfying and meaningful.

Here are a few ways God fed my soul.  I woke at 4:30 AM, which was what my body was used to in my time zone, and the Spirit whispered encouraging truths to me as I lay in bed.  I had one of the best visits ever with my parents, with many good one-on-one conversations.  I got with Ashley.  I saw prayers being answered.  I took a walk and discovered God’s beauty.

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After I returned, Mom C wrote on a Facebook, “Kat,your visit with us has been wonderful! I so enjoyed the times that you and I had together, especially the spiritual moments. I think we have created yet another bond.”

Let’s take the leap, a hundred times a day, away from our needs and worries, into God’s arms. He WILL provide.  He will take care of us.  Only HE can be our sufficiency, our source, our answer.

It’s hard.  It’s a battle.  But it is worth it.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matt. 5:6

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Faith, Mark

Vanquishing the Doom Gloom

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Last week someone close to me hurt my feelings, and it sent me into this crazy downward spiral of emotions.  I thought I dealt with that, but then I had other ups and downs, and realized that I still had some kind of strong uneasiness going on.

I finally put my finger on it.  The incident had triggered the Doom Gloom in me.  Doom Gloom is to be distinguished from Doom and Gloom, which is being characterized by a glum disposition. Doom Gloom is a strong foreboding that something got broken, and is not going to work, and life is going to stink!

As I studied out the passage for this week’s blog, it gave me some insight into my Doom Gloom, and led me to a powerful way to deal with it.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.  Mark 8:11-13

These verses talk about how the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to show them his creds.

This bummed Jesus out.  Why?  I mean, it seems reasonable to ask him to prove who he was.  Others in the Bible were given signs.  Gideon asked for and received a sign with the fleece.  God gave Moses a sign through his staff.

moses staff

To understand this, we have to understand how God views “testing.”  Look at the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  The devil took him to a high place and told him to throw himself off the edge, because the scriptures said the angels would catch him when he did.  Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The scripture Jesus used refers to Exodus 17, when the Israelites were in the desert and came to a place where there wasn’t any water.   They freaked out and ganged up on Moses, telling him he had better come through with something to drink!  Moses told them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” (Ex 17:2)

So then we want to know how it was that they were putting God to the test in this situation.   The end of the story tells us, “they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)

moses complaining

When the Israelites couldn’t see God, they couldn’t have faith.  The Lord had helped them in so many ways.  Yet when they lacked water, they started doubting that he was among them.  They had to have a sign, physical evidence.

The Pharisees were doing the same thing.  Really, as Jesus said, it wasn’t just the Pharisees.  It was the whole generation.  Everyone wanted to see immediate physical evidence, over and over again, that the Lord was with them in the person of Jesus.  Otherwise they couldn’t have faith.

And I want to make one more point here.  In the case of the Pharisees, asking for a sign was probably bogus.  They already had their minds made up that he wasn’t from God.  In Mark 3, Jesus had been doing miracles and the teachers of the law said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  They saw signs, but to them the signs meant that Jesus was working with the power of the devil.  Somehow all of their religious knowledge made them so wise in their own eyes that they couldn’t see the truth.

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And all this made Jesus sigh deeply.  He was sad that a generation which had a history of God being among them still couldn’t have faith.  He was sad that the religious leaders had closed the eyes and doors to their hearts.

The lesson for us, of course, is not to fall into either category.  We need to have steadfast faith and open hearts.

First, just like the Israelites, we need to steadfastly believe that God is with us because we, too, have a history of him being among us.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Acts 14:17
  • For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  Romans 1:20
  • “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  Job 12:8-10
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. Isa 40:22

I know when I think over my life, I can see the mile markers of God taking care of me.  He orchestrated a way for me to know him and attend a wonderful church.  He provided a husband who would be my partner in faith, and made my marriage immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.  Over the years he’s given me a hope and purpose, an amazing job, success in raising my children, stronger mental health, and a mission that is a dream come true.  He’s worked in so many ways.  I could go on and on.

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A recent outing with my family. I am so blessed!

Yet when something goes wrong, I’m still like the Israelites, doubting that God’s going to take care of me.  I get the Doom Gloom.  I have to fight this!

Second, we need to constantly work on humility so that we won’t be so wise in our own eyes that we miss the truth.

“No!” we think.  “We’re not missing the truth.  We know it and we’re living by it.”  We think we’ve figured out God.

But God works in so many ways that we don’t expect.  And we have blind spots.  We still need to learn and grow.  We’re not there yet.

I certainly have grown in my convictions over the years.  I’ve found out that I need to stay humble and open.  I need to keep going back to the scriptures to gain deeper insights.  I need to pray for wisdom and ask God to show me the truth.  I need to realize that although I’m pretty sure I’m right, I might be wrong.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. Prov. 26:12

In the end, this passage about the Pharisees trying to test Jesus is changing my life.  I’m loving it! Why?  Because after I studied it out, I asked myself, “How would my day be different if I really believed that God is with me?”  I saw a lot of ways. It was convicting.

So I started remembering and believing that God is with me in the different things I do.  I found myself being less timid and more giving.   I believed God was with me when I checked out at the store, and I had a great chat with the clerk.  I believed God was with me when I got with someone who needed encouragement, and I found I had more to say. I believed God was with me when I was tired and emotional and wanted to hide, and I was able to push through.  I believed God is with me when I prayed, and I prayed for more impossible things.

me and yesenia

I am so thankful that God works in our times with friends!

Let me encourage you to do the same!  It is SO HARD when things go wrong and we get the Doom Gloom.  We so badly want to test God and have him show us that he is among us, instead of looking to ourselves to develop our faith muscle.

Let’s repeat over and over to ourselves, “God is with me.”

Satan wants us to freak out. Satan wants us to be blind in our own conceit.

But we can live with strength.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. . . II Cor 2:14a

 

 

 

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Faith, Mark, Uncategorized

When You Feel Like You Can’t

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.  In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.  The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.  Mark 7:24-30

Have you ever had an “Invasion of the Flies” day?  One morning last week I woke up and heard this buzzing in the laundry room.  I pulled up the blind on the window there and saw thirty or forty flies congregating on the pane!  Bleck!  And this was in addition to other flies that had gotten in and were zipping all over the house.

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I became like a madwoman with the flyswatter.  At first, I executed calculated swats to take out invading buzzers.  But then I just started flailing the swatter in every direction.

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I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day.  But no matter how many flies I killed, when I’d sit down to do something, I’d see another one and go on the warpath again.

After awhile, I sort of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or something.  Outside it was overcast and dreary.   Inside I was wandering around for hours with a flyswatter.  I kind of got lost in this sense of defeat.

The “Invasion of the Flies” can be like life sometimes.  We want to accomplish things, but the obstacles make it seem impossible.  We get discouraged.

Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, but how do we act when we feel like we CAN’T do something?  That’s what is compelling to me about the story of the woman from Tyre.  Everything pointed to her not being able to get help from Jesus.  She was a Gentile,  an outsider.  She knew Jesus wasn’t ministering to her kind.  (Of course, God’s plan was to include the Gentiles later.)  She could have felt like it was hopeless.

But instead of feeling hopeless, this woman had incredible faith!   What can we learn from her?

The power of being poor in spirit.  This woman reached for a solution that was far outside of what any of her friends would consider.  She must have been strongly driven.  She must have realized that she needed and wanted this more than anything else.  The aching of her heart would have eclipsed all other concerns.

So here’s the thing — it is only poverty of spirit that motivates us to reach out to Jesus in a radical way.

Are we able to see and admit how desperately we need Jesus?  I confess that I like to keep life civilized.  I keep my prayers civilized.  Sure, I pray for what I want, but I don’t visit that place in my heart where I am hurting and scared, where the need is screaming.  If I pray about that concern, I’ll have to revisit the scary emotions.  I’ll have to feel vulnerable.  More than that, I’ll have to open myself up to disappointment.  What if God doesn’t fix my need right away?  I’ll feel hopeless and discouraged.

But the civilized life goes further than that.  Most of the time I think, “I’ve got this.”  I do pray and ask God for help with it.  I do realize I need his help.  But I don’t think I desperately need his help.  It’s like, “I’m going to do this and that today.  Here are things I can do that should be effective.  Let me pray and ask God to be involved.  Okay.  I’ve done what I can. I’m ready to go.”

The more I’ve been meditating on this the past several days, the more I’ve realized how deceived and self reliant I’ve been, how desperately I need God in so many circumstances.  I’ve been praying more frequently, and in a more needy way.

There IS power in being poor in spirit.  It compels us to plead for the power of Jesus.

The power of believing in God’s goodness.  If I were this woman, I wouldn’t have tried to talk to Jesus because I would have doubted that he would be interested in helping me.   I certainly wouldn’t have pursued it further if he told me no. But this woman must have believed that Jesus had enough goodness in him to respond to her request.

I can use cynicism as a protection mechanism.  If I expect that people will let me down, then I can’t get hurt.  I’ve seen people who don’t care.  I’ve blown this up to expecting it from everyone.

I’m exaggerating this a bit, because I can believe the best in people.  But I see how my insecurities and protection cynicism can extend towards God.  It’s hard to believe that he will care enough about my small time concerns to exert effort to help me.

I forget that God is good.  Jesus is good.  The more we believe that, the more we will take our concerns to him with the faith that he will exert effort to help us.

The power of focusing on CAN, not CAN’T.  The woman didn’t dwell on the fact that she was a Gentile.  She thought, “Well, Jesus is in town.  I have the ability go to see him.  I actually can ask for his help.”  When he turned her down, she still focused on the CAN.  She could continue to make her case.

As I get older, I still have the expectation that I can accomplish the things I did when I was younger.  But then I come face to face with a diminished energy level, mild health challenges, and bouts of moodiness.  It’s easy for me to get down on myself.

But last week, as I was hearing the voice that said, “You’re a failure,” I talked to God about it and heard the Spirit say, “God loves you for what you CAN do, not for what you can’t.”  And I realized that God created me with a certain temperament and abilities.  I may not be able to do as much as I used to, but there are things I can do, and I need to take joy in those things.

So I did what I could do, and it felt beautiful.  I went to the retirement home and played monopoly with the golden years guys.  I found a the components for a craft and put it together for kid’s Sunday School.  I called friends and family members and had encouraging conversations.

Satan wants us to focus on the CAN’Ts.  He wants us to feel defeated.

God wants us to focus on the CANs.  And just like the woman, it’s exciting to focus on the CANs, because we have faith that God can and will work with our CANs.

You know, everyone loves quoting Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

But let’s remember the context of that verse.  Paul said right before that, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

This verse isn’t talking about having the strength through Christ to run a race or do amazing things, although Christ certainly can give us strength to do that.  This verse is about having the strength to be content.  THAT is the goal.

There is power in contentment.  It keeps us from feeling discouraged and defeated.  It keeps us firmly in the province of faith.

A few weeks ago, while she was here for a stay, my longtime young friend Jacquelyn bought me a gift.

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I love this sign!   I put it on my shelf and look at it often.  It encourages me to focus on what I do have, what I can do, and to remember that life with God is beautiful.

We all have times where we face the “Invasion of the Flies” (and much worse), times when the obstacles make it seem impossible.  Let’s take inspiration from the woman in Tyre.  Let’s admit our desperation, believe in God’s goodness and willingness to help, and then do what we CAN do (with contentment).

You know, it’s only when we are in impossible circumstances that we have the chance to develop the faith that God is looking for.   Instead of feeling hopeless, let’s see our times of CAN’T as opportunities to learn to practice incredible faith!

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Fighting Godzilla

fighting godzilla

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy.  Ack!  What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable.   I started feeling listless and unmotivated.  I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.

It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change.  And in a way, that’s true.  But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.

Jesus said something radical in the passage above.  He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks.  What matters is what is in our heart.  Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another.  It will affect us and others.

I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago.  Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband.  (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?)  But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.

If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear.  I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all.  The problem was my fear.  I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.

And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life.  I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another.  Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain.  I hate that feeling. (I know,  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I keep grappling with it.)

So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.

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I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in.  I work very hard at making sure everything goes right.  I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.

But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.

It’s like a Godzilla Fear!

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It’s like a Terminator Emotion.   Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?

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That is what my fear can be like.

Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities  — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.

And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves.  But how?  It seems impossible!

Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful.  (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)

Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.

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Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape!  The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.

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The same thing is true with our heart.  We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that.   In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant.  So is digging through our emotional baggage.   But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.

There are effective tools in helping us with this.  I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.

Look for the shoots.  In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart.  It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively.  It propagates more sin

There are weeds in my yard that have a root system.  I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.

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The two sprigs in front are connected weeds.  I’ve tried to get rid of these things a thousand times!

In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE.  Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out.  It’s up to ME.

So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding!  Is there hope?  I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good.  In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control.  Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off.  (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)

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So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:

A more total dependence on God!

I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.

It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War.  He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down:  “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“

It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear.  When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do:  have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”

In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns.  We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt.  Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  John 6:29

Having faith takes work.

Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling.  It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.

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She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time.   She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”

Wow.  I want that kind of faith.  But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.

So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.”  Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe.   Here are a few of the truths I repeat:

  1. God loves me incredibly.  Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
  2. God is merciful and compassionate.  Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
  3. God is a provider.  Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
  4. God is good.  I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
  5. God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
  6. God is my father.  Matt. 6:9
  7. God is faithful.  II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
  8. God will fight for me.  Ex 14:14
  9. God will mature me.  Phil. 1:6
  10. God wants to give me good gifts, and all things.  Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
  11. That I can approach the throne with confidence.  Heb 4:16
  12. That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
  13. That there is hope. Rom 5:5
  14. That Jesus is willing.  Matt. 8:3
  15. That my prayers will be answered.  Mark 11:24

This is just a starting point.  Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.

I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions.  But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart.  They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.”  I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.

All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling.  My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.

And faith feels good.  It is purifying and healing my heart.  And that is the goal.

 

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Faith Like a Snowplow

Travel anxiety

Travel anxiety

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and [Jesus] was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.  Mark 6:47-50a

Okay, here is a passage about fear.  The disciples were alone in the dark, getting blasted by wind.  Then they thought they saw a ghost and totally freaked out.

How easily we give into fear.  I found myself experiencing a lot of anxiety when I went on my trip. With the fatigue, the scramble of being in different places, and carrying a backpack instead of a purse,  I was so afraid I would lose something.  I constantly checked to be sure I had my wallet, phone, camera and meds.  I’d wake up in the morning and not see my thyroid pills and worry that I left them at the last hotel.  I’d sit in the car and feel my mood plunge because I couldn’t remember packing my camera.  I actually did leave my phone at my dad’s motel, but we were able to retrieve it.

Here are some places I went.

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Also, on my trip, I was also afraid of not feeling well.  I felt uneasy because my root canal was still achy and my toe was hurting.  Would they get worse?  What about other maladies I suffer from?  Would they act up?  I packed my backpack with every kind of cure for physical ailments — teas, pills and even my Nettie Pot!

Can you relate?  What makes you fearful or anxious? What are your props to keep you feeling secure?

Of course, it’s not wrong for me to keep up with my stuff, or to make sure I’m prepared.  But it is wrong to be ruled by my insecurities.  Let’s keep reading:

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  Mark 6:50b-52

Fear comes from having a hard heart.  We don’t understand about the “loaves,” the ways God has provided for us in the midst of scarcity.  And so we gather our own “loaves” and clutch them tightly.

On Sunday, we visited our sister church in Albuquerque and two of the campus guys did a lesson on Matthew 6.  One talked about verse 25, where Jesus told his disciples not to worry.  The campus guy’s point was, “The mind wanders to what the heart wants.”  In other words, our worries reveal what’s most important to us.

Yikes! That means that what’s important to me is feeling in control, having everything in place.

Instead, what should be important is focusing on God.  If I could just realize that he is what I really need to keep with me, much more than my phone or my emergency kit!

So this trip I started aggressively using my shield of faith.  I would picture myself wielding it, pushing forward in hope and pushing away all of my fears, worries and uneasy feelings.

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But after awhile, I decided I needed a bigger shield.  I needed something more like the snowplow of faith!

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The snowplow of faith is the knowledge that God is a loving faithful father who is with us, even when we can’t see it.

It’s the acceptance that we may have to go through that thing we fear, but when we do, God’s grace is sufficient and he will provide at the right time.

It’s crucifying the temptation to worry, be afraid or give into dejection. (Gal 2:20, 5:24)

How easily we give into fear.  The disciples in the boat freaked out because they felt vulnerable and defenseless.  I feel the same way without my stuff. (Lol — first world problems. I do have bigger fears I struggle with too.)

But then I keep thinking of Joshua and Caleb.  They were the only ones who made it into the Promise Land because they were the only ones whose faith was bigger than their fears.  They had faith like a snowplow!

Let’s fight to have the same kind of faith to make it to the Promise Land as well.

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Psalm 54 – Self Reliant or God Reliant?

Appreciating Psalm 54 is all about knowing what was happening when it was written.  The notes for the psalm explain that it was written, “When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”

So we have to read about David’s encounter with the Ziphites.  This story is in the last part of I Samuel 23, but we can get an even better picture of what’s going on by reading the whole exciting chapter!  I know, I know.  You’re short on time.  I’ll summarize it for you.

David at this point is with a group of about 600 men who have thrown in their lot with him.  They are playing a deadly game of hide and seek with Saul and his army.  And then David hears that the Philistines are raiding one of the Jewish border towns, Keilah,and stealing their grain.

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Man from Kielah entreating David to help.

David has such an awesome heart.  He wants to take his band of men and rescue the people of Kielah.  But his guys are like, “What?  We’re quaking in our boots because Saul’s army is breathing down our necks, and you want to take on the whole Philistine army?”  So David consults the Lord, twice, and the Lord assures him that he will totally win.

Thus they engage in a skirmish with the Philistines.  David’s forces pound them and free the town of Kileah. Yay!

Of course, just as his men feared, this puts David on Saul’s radar.  Saul’s rubbing his hands together with glee, thinking, “Ha!  I have David in a walled in city now.  Now I can finally get him!”

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Walled in city

Saul sends his army in that direction.  David realizes Saul is coming, and knows this will put the people of Kielah in a dicey situation.  Will they stand with him, or give him over to their king?  He asks the Lord, and the Lord lets him know it’s time to cut and run.  So David and his men manage to slip away before Saul’s army arrives.  They hightail it to the hill country of Ziph.

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The hills of Ziph — a pretty hostile environment!

Foiled, Saul’s army keeps looking for David to no avail, because God is helping David out.  But then the residents of Ziph betray David, and clue Saul in to David’s location.  Armed with this new information, Saul closes in on David.  He’s on one side of the mountain and David’s on the other.  It seems like it’s all over.  David will finally be captured.  And then, just in the nick of time, Saul gets an urgent message that he has to go fight the Philistines.  So he and his army exit the area.  Whew!

Here’s the first half of the psalm David wrote when he was going through all of this:

Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!

Defend me with your might.

Listen to my prayer, O God.

Pay attention to my plea.

For strangers are attacking me;

violent people are trying to kill me.

They care nothing for God.

Can’t you just pictures the situation from what David says here?  He’s like, “Please help me, God.  And I’m going to need you to bring the big guns because I’m in this barren desert place, and it’s not just Saul and his army who are after me, now the local bad guys, who don’t even know me, are against me!”

Psalms 54 goes on:

Surely God is my help;

the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Let evil recoil on those who slander me;

in your faithfulness destroy them.

I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;

I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.

You have delivered me from all my troubles,

and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes

Notice how proactive David believes God will be.  God is the one who will help him, defend him, deliver him, sustain him, and destroy the enemy.  Not once does David ask God for the ability to do these things himself.  He believes God will do them.

In the end David says his eyes have looked in triumph on his foes. He could have been remembering past victories given by God.  But I like to think David wrote this at the end of the present story.  I envision his scouts coming and reporting, “We can’t figure it out, but Saul’s army is headed the other way.  They’re leaving.”

David does a fist pump. “Yes! Praise God!” And he turns and shouts to the hills, as if the people of Ziph can hear him, “Hey, chumps.  You thought you were going to mess with me, but you were messing with the Lord!  You picked the wrong side!”

It’s fun to think about, but whatever happened, we know that David gave God the total glory.   He attributed victory to the Lord, and exalted him.

So here are four things we can take away from this story and psalm:

Pray before taking action.  When we’re making decisions about which way to go, we need to remember to first pray about it and ask God for guidance.

Be God reliant, not self reliant.  David didn’t depend on his own wisdom or power.  He put all his eggs in God’s basket.  God was his resource for guidance.  God was his strategy.  God was his weapon. God was his solution.

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me. . . (Jeremiah 9:23-24a)

Deliverance often comes when things seem at their worst. David wasn’t rescued until the 11th hour.   It’s often the same for us.  I was just thinking over my life, and remembering some of the most encouraging ways God acted.  Some of the greatest things from God came on the heels of my greatest times of trial.

I have an illustration I want to share.  Last year we had some tremendous blessings in our church, but there were also some challenging times.  In the fall, several of our members who were dear friends and hard workers moved away or quit coming.  And then another church started meeting at the same hotel where we had been meeting for the past eight years.  We were happy to share our space.  But this church took up the common areas, and played loud music that invaded our services.  Loud bass was vibrating while we were trying to take communion.

It was a low point.  We saw the writing on the wall — we would have to find a new place to meet.  We prayed that we could somehow find a location that would be cheap, close to the interstate, and amenable to us bringing food for fellowships. This was a tall order!

And then, out of the blue, our women’s leader, Marge, was getting a rental car and happened to see the VFW building next door.  “I wonder if we could rent that?”  she said to  herself.  It took a lot of tracking down to find the right person to talk to, but when we did, they said they were looking for renters!

So two weeks ago we had our first service in our new location, and we loved it!

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It was warm and homey.  We had coffee and snacks as we fellowshipped.   What had seemed like a setback had turned into a new start.  Our hearts were full of gratitude to God.

And that brings me to my last point about Psalms 54 —

Give total glory to God.  When things work out, let David be our inspiration.  Let’s break out into wholehearted praise!  How can we give the credit to anyone or anything but the Lord?  It is God who gives us the victory. He will continue to do so, as we completely rely on him.  And when he does, we will lift up his name with thanksgiving.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  II Cor 2:14a

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