Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Week Thirty-One - Scarecrows in the Field

     I remember seeing scarecrows in my grandfather’s gardens.  You know what they are—straw men on sticks placed to frighten away birds and varmints from crops.  Sometimes, they aren’t even shaped like men.  They can be aluminum plates left to dangle from a stick and blow in the wind.  But the goal is the same, to frighten things away.
    Hannah Hurnard, in her book, The Hearing Heart, makes mention of a scarecrow that caused her to take a second look at God’s call upon her life.  “Indeed, I considered that aspect of the matter (her health or nervous temperament) with great apprehension and the Enemy made a great ‘Scarecrow” out of it.” (p 55)
    Do you catch the correlation?  Just as the physical scarecrow is set in the field to deter those who would enter, the enemy sets scarecrows in front of God’s servants to deter them from going out into the field.
   They can take the form of excuses why we can’t do things for the Lord or times when we are afraid to move forward by faith because the enemy has filled us with doubt and questions like What if I don’t know what to say?  What if it all gets too hard for me?  What if I fail?  What if I don’t have enough support?  What if I can’t learn the language?  What if people laugh at me?  What if…What if…What if…?  Or maybe they are taunts like: You aren’t really called.  You will never be good enough.  No one will like you.  You can never do that.
   These questioning scarecrows seem so very real.  We see them in our mind and it feels like we almost touch them!  They haunt us at night producing genuine anxiety but we need not let them deter us from obedience or cause us to sidestep in faith.
   Here’s the thing about scarecrows—they aren’t real.  They are imagined danger.  And they aren’t restricted to those going out into the mission field, as in Hannah Hurnard’s case.  They are there for every Christian who is seeking to follow and obey the Lord’s direction.  Every Christian who is trying to find their way.  The enemy does not want us in the field!
   One more thing about scarecrows—there will always be scarecrows in a productive field.  There is no need for them on wasteland.  That is all the more a reason to recognize them for what they are—they are the enemy’s attempt to keep us from enjoying the fruit of our service and destroy the work of God in our life.  Call them what they are—lies and fears.
   Ms. Hurnard went on to write:  “As with the virgins in the parable, so with the birds in the field, there are two kinds, the wise and the foolish. A wise bird knows that a scarecrow is simply an advertisement. It announces in the most forceful and picturesque way that in the garden, which it is doing its best to adorn, some very juicy and delicious fruit is to be had for the picking. There are scarecrows in all the best gardens. Every thoughtful bird learns in time to regard a scarecrow as an invitation to a banquet. He feels as a hungry man feels when he hears a dinner bell ring and swoops down upon the delicacies to which the scarecrow calls him. If I am wise, I too shall treat the scarecrow as though it were a dinner bell. Every giant in the way which makes me feel like a grasshopper is only a scarecrow beckoning me to God’s richest blessings. Faith is a bird which loves to perch on scarecrows. She knows there are scarecrows wherever there are strawberries. All our fears are groundless.”

    So, the wise worker pays them no mind.  He casts them down and moves on by faith bringing them before the Lord and using the weapon of the word against their taunts. (2 Corinthians 10:5  “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”)
    Don’t be afraid of scarecrows when your Father has sent you into the field.  He knows that’s where the fruit and blessings are! You have a calling that supersedes and a mandate that validates. (Mark 16:15 “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Week Thirty - Thirty-Something

At age thirty-something I chopped my long hair, got a perm, and resigned myself to adulthood. 
I believed I was old.  It was time to put on my apron and accept I would never be young again. 
How silly I was! 
      It was about this same time that I began to struggle with a deep depression.  I thought I had life figured out.  I knew what to do and what to say in order to navigate the unwritten rules of life.
I was on the mission field having given my life to service, but I felt empty.  I was confused and overwhelmed.  I felt no one understood and worse yet, no one cared.  No one loved me.  Of course,
that was a lie, but lies can be powerful!  I had a hard time accepting that God could love me in the
state I was in.  I felt wretched and inflicted my wretchedness on those doing life with me.
      I have met and read of many young women on that thirty-something search for whatever.  They faced the same questions that haunted my thoughts. Who was I?  Where was I – age, career, kids? etc.  Was I too late to make anything of my life?  Why all this angst and uncertainty?  How had I gotten to this place? Why was life so hard, so competitive, so judgmental?  Why did I feel so lonely and frustrated?
       My search eventually led me to a deep assurance of God’s love.  I found that no matter what questions I asked or how I felt emotionally, He brought me close to His side and wrapped me in His comforting arms and I began to rebuild on Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
     Here’s a bit of what I learned in my thirties about God’s love.
          If I attempt to measure God’s love by my responses, I’ve got it all wrong. 
          If I think my faithfulness increases God’s love for me, I’ve got it all wrong. 
          If I think a set of dos and don’ts will put me in better standing with God, I’ve got it all wrong. 
Why?  Because God’s love isn’t measured by responses, actions, or obedience.  It is only measured by himself—for God IS love.  His love is unconditional.  It doesn’t matter what I do, where I go, what I say, what I wear, what I don’t do, where I don’t go, what I fail to say or do…There are NO conditions to God’s love and NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1) God loves me—that’s it.
    Slowly, as I let go of my attempts to gain God’s love by my own efforts I began to see and rest in His love for me. He loved me even when I didn’t get time to read the Word or have devotions.  With five small children, a full-time ministry, and my depressed state, that was sometimes impossible. 
     He loved me even when I failed as a pastor/missionary wife by saying stupid stuff or reacting from raw emotion. 
     He loved me even when I was too tired to think straight or when the depression left me completely unreasonable and in floods of tears. 
     He loved me even when I couldn’t or wouldn’t verbalize what was going on in my heart for fear of what might come out or if I could shut the floodgates.
    Stay with me though. Having established His solid unwavering love for me, I cannot translate that love into approval or agreement.  God always loves, even when he does not approve or agree with my choices and behavior.  Just as a parent loves their child even though they have made a poor choice or chosen to disobey. God, the perfect parent, loves with no condemnation, no pushing away, no hesitation, but He still wants me to act like His child.   He wants me to trust and obey.  He brought me through that depression into a much better place.  And he wasn’t finished there!  
     So, I’m telling you. Take a deep breath.  Relax your shoulders.  The whole thing doesn’t depend on you.  God’s got this and He’s got you.  He knows where you are and will lovingly carry you through safely in the arms of Jesus with forty just around the corner!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Week Twenty-Nine - Panic Attack

     Several women, both old and young, have approached me over these last few months about ways to deal with anxiety.  It caught me off guard as I didn’t know some of them struggled, but it seems to be a serious problem for many.
    When I get anxious, I have learned to give myself a good talking to.  A few years ago, I noticed that anxiety worked on my digestion and was causing wrinkles, so I began to pray and listen to my body.  I changed my diet.  I practiced controlled breathing and taught myself to relax my taut muscles.  I memorized uplifting and assuring Scriptures and surrounded myself with Christian music.  I took a good look at the company I was keeping and the things I was watching on television removing and setting boundaries to control the things bringing fear and chaos into my life. 
      If that sounds too easy for those who struggle with a perpetual feeling of fear and nervousness.  I’m sorry.  Please don’t stop reading yet!
    I was given a book called Fully Alive by Susie Larson and found time to read it this past month.  It’s a study book with places to journal and does research into a variety of situations we all face like fear, grief, discouragement, and illness.  But there is also a chapter on anxiousness and worry that helped me look at three other ways to deal with panic attacks.  Let’s take a quick look, and, if you can get a copy of her book, you will be able to draw even more if this is an area of concern in your life.
     The author opens up about her experience with worry and anxiety in a very personal way.  For her, she struggled to keep her heart and thoughts away from fear and fixed on the Lord as she faced repeated illness.  She said, “I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place and had no idea what to do.”
(p 98)
     In a deep moment of prayer, the Lord gave her three things to hold on to amid these severe moments of anxiety.  I cannot do justice to all she has written but let me try to break it down for you in hopes that God uses this short devotion to breathe hope into your anxious heart.
     “One day He (the Lord) laid out a strategy that would carry me through the rest of the battle: 
                       You REST while I work.  You FEAST while I fight.  You WAIT to take flight. 
     Rest, feast, and wait?  My storm compelled me to strive, starve, and strain at the oars.  Clearly, there’s a way for us to flourish in our storms.  When we allow the Prince of Peace to guard and guide us, the enemy can’t touch us” (p 98-99).
    What does she mean by resting while the Lord works?  When anxiety hits, we have an instinctive reaction to look for something to do, striving to make things more bearable.  For some, it is cleaning a closet.  For others, it is eating or shopping.  Some find themselves angry and lash out from fear and pressure.  Some hide. Some cry.  Some freeze.
     Alternatively, the author says, it is the perfect time to stop striving and focus on the Lord.  He wants us to rest in Him; to cease from our fretting and draw aside into His love.  Never forget—He is not a God who frets and worries. (I love that thought.) Spending time getting to know Him as the God who knows and takes care of our troubles calms our anxious hearts as He works on our behalf. 
     Like that “shoulder toss” idea I have written about before.  We cast our cares upon Him.  We literally throw them over our shoulder and the Lord catches them.  We can then go and take a nap, exercise, or have a pleasant walk with a friend while assured of God’s ability to do whatever needs to be done.  The peace of God can rule in our hearts and we can find the rest we need while we wait on the Lord to solve the problem and remove the fear.
     When she spoke of feasting while the Lord fights, she was referring to the passage in Psalm 23 where we read of the Lord preparing a table for us in front of our enemies.  When enemies taunt us, we know God is going to graciously and generously meet our needs. 
     This might show itself in words of comfort grasping our hearts from Scripture or a worship song played just at the right time.  It might be an unexpected message from a friend with uplifting words.  It is that right place, right time word or action that affirms the Lord’s love and attention toward you. 
     I think of it like that “take that” moment when you turn toward the enemy and feel bolstered by God’s love and knowledge of your place in Christ.  That is feasting!  Instead of starving or allowing the enemy to beat us down, we have a healthy assurance that causes anxiety to melt away. 
     I cannot begin to tell you of the times God moved with one mighty stroke to remove my fear and anxiety in times like this.  It always leaves me feeling so very loved and safe.  I find myself feasting in His love for me: singing at the top of my lungs and praising with a fully thankful heart, with no thought of the enemy or my fear.
    Waiting to take flight means not giving up so easily.  Instead, we look with hope and expectation for the Lord’s relief in our situation.  I use Psalm 27:13, 14 when I am in these times.  I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”  
     While I wait, I draw aside with Him.  I keep my thoughts focused on the promises of His word and do things that keep me calm.
     I might have a cup of tea or take a prayer walk.  I might go to my special area and cry and pray.  I might set myself down and have a good talk through the truths of God’s word and write down what He says about me and guides me into a better understanding.
     But whatever my calming looks like, it always results in bringing me back to the promise of the goodness of the Lord.  He will answer.  He will take care of me.  I can trust Him.  There is no need to throw in the towel or go do something rash or stupid. 
     Susie Larson says, “When you’re tempted to strive, it’s time to rest.  When you’re taunted by the enemy’s threats, it’s time to feast. When you feel defeated and you’ve lost your motivation to battle, it’s time to wait on the Lord, expectantly believing that He will renew our strength.  His word is true.  It’s impossible for Him to fail you.” (p 109)

It’s time to take that panic attack to the throne!

Hast thou not known?
hast thou not heard that the everlasting God,
the Lord,
the Creator of the ends of the earth,
fainteth not,
neither is weary?
there is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faith;
and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary
and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength:
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary; and
they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Larson, Susie, Learning to Flourish—Mind, Body and Spirit, Fully Alive, Bethany House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2018

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Week Twenty-Eight - Perfectionism

I’m a planner.  I love lists, checking things off, and I revel in a plan coming together.  But life isn’t always like that, is it?  It has a way of throwing curveballs, catching you off guard, and putting challenges before you that leaves you with a deep sense of lack of control.  It makes life look messy and unpredictable.  Well, that’s what life is.  It can all be going swimmingly, then a shark appears in the waters and you are sure you will be eaten alive!
     This idea of the unpredictability of life is the subject of Lysa Terkeurst’s book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way.  I was given the book a couple months ago and while driving to Atlanta I had time to read it.  I totally recommend it, by the way.  Especially if you are facing multiple trials—especially things that have come out of nowhere.
     She writes about taking up painting as a distraction during her deep trials.  As she wrote, I found a precious gem.  She said, “I realized what makes painting so delightful.  It’s their imperfections.  We already know a painting isn’t going to look like a photograph.  And that’s what makes it art.  It’s been touched by a human.  It’s been created by someone whose hands sweat and who can’t possibly transfer divine perfection from what her corneas see to what her fingertips can create.  Even the best painters will get something off scale, out of alignment, a shade too dark, or a hair too thick.  It will be flawed.  And that’s where we must make a crucial decision: what will we do with disappointment?  Will we see the human behind the ink?  The heart that dared to hold the brush dripping with color.  Remember that she was the courageous one.  That she was the one who showed up.  Took the risk.  Braved the disappointment of others.  And lived.  And made her mark” (p 81)
   Oh, my tiny heart pulsed as I read her words.  I try so hard to make life perfect for myself and for those around me.  I don’t like conflict.  I don’t like mess.  I don’t like disorder.  But it happens.  Maybe I need to stop trying so hard and accept that the imperfections are what color life and give it texture.  Maybe I need to stop hiding behind my attempts at perfection and step out there taking more risk, being more courageous, showing up, and allowing my life to be used of God to make a mark!
    Then, just as I write this, my planner mind tries to take over!  So what would life look like if I didn’t have a plan?  What mayhem would ensue? 
    I don’t think she is talking about having no plan, no expectations, or attempting for perfectionism.  I think she is talking about accepting that there is a beauty in life that comes from the randomness.  We have a choice about how we accept it, how we deal with it, how we allow the Lord to use all things for His glory.  Ours is to show up!  To not judge others too harshly for their paths but know that every trial leaves a scar.  Those scars, sometimes visible, sometimes not, create the image of God within us.  They are part of what gives the painting of our life color and texture. 
   What are you going to do with them?  Here’s what I’m going to do with them today.  I am going to spend the day looking for God’s hand in every color and texture.  I’m not going to make a list or try to create a perfect day.  I’m choosing to enjoy all my Lord has planned for me.  He is the perfect planner.  He waters every moment of my life.  I choose not to fear the unpredictable.  Instead, I’m going to take that path of trust and thankfulness that will bring me to the end of my day rejoicing, secure, and saying, “Now, that was a perfect day!”
Lysa Terkeurst, It’s Not Supposed to Be this Way, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2018

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Week Twenty-Seven - Prayers to Pray

    In June I attended a Missionary Retreat in Branson, Missouri.  It was a sweet time of fellowship and fun with missionary friends both old and new.  While there, our main speaker, Pastor Stevenson, spoke on Colossians 1:9-12 and talked us through four prayers we all should be praying.  These really spoke to me as I began to take in what he was saying.  Please let me share these with you this week.
     The first prayer he mentioned, relating to verse 9, was, “Lord, help me to know what to do.”  This is a prayer, I would imagine, that we all pray regularly.  We face many situations in relationships, finances, and life that find us begging the question as to what in the world we are to do.  Here in Colossians, Paul prays for the believers to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.  He wants them to have the wisdom and spiritual understanding needed to make good decisions.  We all need that, don’t we?  Let’s remember that God is willing to share this wisdom with us.  According to James 1:5, all we need do is ask.  Are you asking?  Or are you struggling along trying to figure things by relying on your own wits?
     The second prayer, formulated from verse 10, is “Lord, help me to do what I know to do.”  I have always loved the instruction to “walk worthy.”  It forms a picture in my mind and gives me the challenge I need to rise above the pettiness around me. As His child, I am to live in a kinder, more pleasing, and more productive way.  I am to be increasing in every good work.  The temptation is to go with the crowd; to indulge in complaining, self-focus, or greed.  But I need to live above the friends in low places.  Matter of fact, I should not be down there with them.  I am to live in a totally different realm because I am the child of the King.  If I know how I should respond, then I want to be obedient, but my flesh gets in the way.  I hear my heart trying to justify a selfish or hateful response when I am confronted, so I need to be asking the Lord to help me to do what I know to do–to respond in loving obedience.
     The next prayer Pastor Stevenson drew from the text was, “Lord, help me to know and do with the right attitude.” We find the following qualities in verse 11—patience, longsuffering, and joyfulness. I mentioned love.  That is a great quality, but Paul’s prayer goes on to these three more specific examples.  Am I knowing and doing from a heart of patience and concern?  Maybe.  Maybe not.
     I like the first part of the verse, “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power,” because I know how much strength and spiritual power it takes for me to maintain a good attitude. The words, “I forgive you” may roll off my tongue but to have the right attitude in my heart takes a work of God.  It might be easy to keep my mouth shut, but to bring every thought captive and not allow my mind to drone on and on is more of a spiritual exercise.
     When we are pushed, do we exhibit patience, longsuffering, and joy?  Joy?  Joy when I am impatient with others?  Joy when things take longer than expected?  That’s odd to me.  But as I think about it, if my response is a choice made in love, then there could be joy.  Joy that I didn’t blurt out something unkind.  Joy that I knew the Spirit of God was working in my circumstance.  Joy that the other person doesn’t know how close I came to giving them a good tongue-lashing.
     Pastor Stevenson’s fourth prayer was sorta two-fold, “Lord, help me to be thankful in everything and keep me reminded of my position in Christ.”  I use that “thankful in everything” instruction in many areas of my life.  It is a verse that reverberates in my mind.  I have written before that an attitude of thankfulness creates more joy and happiness in life than you can imagine.  It is a great pressure valve.  It produces a peaceful heart and gives glory to the Lord.
     I think Paul knew that too, so that is why he added this request to his prayer for the believers.  They were going to face difficult situations, but they needed to look around for the things that brought praise and thankfulness.  They needed to appreciate what they had and what the Lord had done in their lives.
     We need to do the same.  As this old world continues to wind down to its destined end, difficult situations will increase and we become confused and disillusioned, but we need not.
     We are children of the King.  We are the victors.  We have an inheritance.  It reminds me of the phrase from the old hymn; “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”
     And passing through we are.  But we still need to keep these four prayers before us; asking the Lord to give us wisdom, obeying God’s truth with a right attitude, and to be a thankful and secure people