Finding the courage to face yourself

Have you ever had to face someone who screwed up? Maybe you had to ride in an elevator with them. Maybe you had to carpool with them. Whatever the situation, if you’ve ever had to talk to someone you know has failed miserably, what did that conversation sound like?

Maybe it was work. Maybe it’s their behavior in general. Whatever they’ve messed up in their life, it makes them very difficult to talk to, unless you’re just really good at pretending that nothing is wrong. Or if you’re oblivious.

It’s hard enough to try to have a conversation with someone you’re uncomfortable talking to, but imagine if that person you couldn’t face was yourself. So many times we talk about how difficult it is to face people we don’t like, but have you ever imagined what it would be like if the person you can’t live with is yourself?

How often do shame and regret get the better of people? How many times does failure convince us that we are worthless? Is it possible to have the strength to face ourselves when we know who we are and what we’re capable of?

379470_5874_brokenmirror3Today’s verses are Psalm 130:8-12.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.

It’s really easy to believe that God is a harsh, tyrannical dictator in the sky, pointing out our errors and holding them over our head. It’s easy to believe that He doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He doesn’t love us. It’s easier to believe all of that than to accept the truth: He loves us even though we’ve given Him every reason not to.

Haven’t you noticed how much easier it is to hate yourself than to accept the gift of forgiveness from someone you hurt? Maybe that’s just me, but I’d rather beat myself up for ten years or so than to willingly accept forgiveness I don’t deserve. But that’s not what God calls us to do. He doesn’t call us to roll around in our sorrow and grief when we’ve repented.

God has promised that when we turn our lives over to Jesus and ask for forgiveness, He takes our sin–all the things we’ve done wrong–and removed them. They’re as far away as the east is from the west, and He remembers them no more.

God isn’t up in heaven pointing out all the things you’ve done wrong. Sure, He knows about them, but if you believe in Jesus, God only sees Christ’s blood on you and not your sin. That doesn’t give you a free pass, of course. You still have to deal with consequences of your sins, but that’s a whole different issue.

If God doesn’t remember our failures anymore, why do we? Why do we get stuck on the past and what we’ve done wrong?

Revelation 12:10 calls Satan, “the accuser of our brothers and sisters.” Do you know what that means? Most of us know that we have an enemy in Satan, but I don’t think we stop to think about what that means. Satan hates us because we belong to God, and he’ll do anything to get us to give up on our relationship with Christ.

Have you sinned? Have you done wrong? Well, join the club. We all have things in our lives that we’re ashamed of. Have you asked forgiveness? If you’ve asked God to forgive you and you’ve chosen to see your actions the way God sees them, you’re forgiven. God promises that. He won’t remember them anymore.

But Satan does. And he will use our past faults and failures to beat us bloody. The easiest way to get someone to fall back into the sin they’ve turned away from is to remind them that they’ve already done it and to convince them that God doesn’t really forgive. Because we have to deserve forgiveness, don’t we?

If you’ve given your life to Christ, if you’ve turned your heart over to Jesus and asked forgiveness for your sin, you are washed clean in Christ’s blood. Period. So when that voice in the back of your brain rises up to condemn you for the things you’ve done, recognize that for what it is.

Our enemy. Trying to derail you. Trying to distract you. Trying to get you to fall.

You have a choice. Don’t listen.

No one deserves God’s grace. No one deserves God’s forgiveness. That’s the point. It’s a gift.

Don’t let Satan beat you up with his lies. Turn to God and remember His grace. He has forgiven you. He promised you He would, and He always keeps His promises. Remember that and you will find the courage to face yourself, no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from.

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing the demon in the storm window

I got home from the Realm Makers conference in Philadelphia on Sunday around 3pm. Both my roomie and I were both exhausted, so instead of being productive like we probably should have been, we decided to watch some Firefly.

So we did–and that’s when we heard it.

*thump-thump*

Like someone walking around upstairs.

Nobody else should have been in the house. At first, I thought I’d imagined it, but we heard it again. So we both crept upstairs, me carrying a flyswatter (stop laughing; a flyswatter is a perfectly legitimate weapon). We did a quick search of the first floor.

Nothing.

We went back downstairs and resumed our watching.

*thump-thump*

Again. Like someone dropping shoes on the wood floor. Or like something banging on the outside of the house.

We repeated this process about four times, growing more and more unsettled with each suspicious thump-thump until we ended up standing outside trying to find out what on earth could be making the sound. And that’s when we saw motion in the storm window.

It turned out to be a cottontail rabbit. A young one I think. It had gotten stuck in the storm window and was trying to jump out. Every time it jumped it would bang its stupid bunny head on the window.

Yes, I’m uncompassionate. It made me laugh. And then it made me think. What I would have done? Would I have been brave enough to stay in a house where there was a creepy ghosty noise banging away on the windows when I couldn’t explain it?

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse 2 Timothy 1:7.

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

Fear is dangerous. Granted, not all fear is bad. Some fear is good. Fear is a natural response to stupidity–or at least it should be. But some kinds of fear are paralyzing and not in a good way.

We fear things that we can’t control, and because we can’t control them, we make no attempt to change them. Fears can become like shackles, binding us up and keeping us locked in a dark corner instead of living in the light like we were created to do. If we aren’t careful, our great big lives can be made teeny tiny by our fear.

And one thing I’ve noticed, especially among Christians, is that we fear the world. We fear the darkness in other people, in organizations, in countries. And darkness is certainly worthy of respect but not fear–fear and respect are totally different. The trouble with fearing darkness is that it’s easy to turn away from it. It’s easy to ignore it. It’s so much easier to pretend that it doesn’t exist because we can’t control what might happen if we face it.

At the Realm Makers 2014 conference, the keynote speaker, New York Times Best Selling author Tosca Lee, had this to say about the darkness of the world and the Christian’s response to it:

“Darkness is a fact of existence, as is light. If we cover our eyes in response to darkness, we are afraid of it. And we are commanded not to fear.”

The world is full of fears, but God has given us His Holy Spirit. And He who lives in us every day is bigger and stronger than any darkness we may face in the world, so why are we afraid? Why do we give into the fears our enemy whispers in our ears?

I’m not saying to accept the darkness or condone it. I’m saying we shouldn’t ignore it. I’m saying we shouldn’t change the subject or write it off like it doesn’t matter. Darkness does matter, and we who are armed with the Light have a responsibility to conquer it in the name of Christ.

I’d like to tell you I would have slept just fine without knowing about the Demon Bunny in the storm window, but I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t found it. The point I’m getting to is that I went looking for an answer. I didn’t just ignore it. I didn’t just put it out of my mind. I ventured out of where I was comfortable to find the cause, and when I found it, I dealt with it.

If we can face the darkness of our world with that kind of fearlessness, I think our lives would be different. I know our faith would be stronger.

What are you afraid of today? What dark aspect of the world are you setting aside and refusing to face because it will make you or others uncomfortable?

Stop. When you’re afraid, remember that fear doesn’t come from God. If you have an opportunity to share Christ’s light with someone lost in darkness, fight the fear. With God on your side, your fears are nothing but a stupid bunny trapped in a storm window. All they do is make noise.

Incoming waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Walking in the storm with Jesus

It seems like 2013 has been an active storm season. People in Oklahoma have just been pounded, and while we in Kansas haven’t seen as much damage, we’ve certainly had our fair share of storms this year.

A storm chaser friend of mine tells me that I live in the Bermuda triangle of weather. And I’m really beginning to think that she’s right.

I was laughing last night as I was finishing up my packing because a pretty bad storm with lots of wind and rain and thunder just appeared over my house. It happened Monday night too, where there was just a little green on the radar and the moment the storm got to my house on the map, it blossomed into this terrifying looking swirl of reds and yellows.

And last night, the red and yellow just parked on top of me for a little while. Just in Reno county. Nowhere else.

And, yes, more branches are down (How is that possible? I have twigs instead of trees! Where are all these branches coming from?), but the basement stayed dry.

I thought it was interesting that this storm appeared out of nowhere last night because I had been thinking about what I was going to post this morning. I heard something on the radio yesterday that really encouraged me, and I thought I’d pass it along.

Incoming waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Incoming waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Matthew 14:24-27.

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

Everybody knows this story, just about. If you’ve been a Christ-follower for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard that Jesus walked on water and calmed storms. This is one of those iconic stories, and if you want to read the whole thing, you can find it in Matthew 14:22-33.

Usually everyone talks about Jesus walking on water. Or later in the story, Peter walks on water for a little while, and that has been something people talk about a lot too. But a comment I heard on the radio, made by Christian music singer Natalie Grant, has changed my perspective on this verse.

She pointed out that Jesus didn’t calm the storm from the shore. He didn’t calm the storm and then go out to them. No. He walked out to them in the storm, met them where they were, and then stayed in sight throughout the storm until He decided it was time for it to stop.

Have you ever thought of it that way? I hadn’t.

Everyone experiences storms in life, those difficult circumstances that weigh us down and frustrate us. Everyone goes through those times. And in the darkness of those moments or those seasons of life, it’s really tempting to think that Jesus isn’t close at hand. Because if He were close, there wouldn’t be a storm, right? Isn’t that our logic? If Jesus is around, everything will be fine?

Well, that’s true. But sometimes our definition of fine needs to be adjusted.

I truly believe that everyone is going through a storm in life, whether it’s work or family or whatever. We’re all surrounded by aspects of our life that we can’t control. We’re all being threatened with waves we can’t see over, with dark clouds that block the sunlight, with wind that makes it difficult to move, with the uncertainty of how long the storm will last. And it’s so easy to get so wrapped up in the storm that we forget to pay attention to Jesus. He’s standing right there. In the storm, in plain sight.

And, like in the story, He may even be calling you to get out of the boat and come join Him on the waves. I think it’s awesome that He didn’t calm the storm so Peter would feel more comfortable walking toward Him.

We may have to go deeper into the storm before He’ll choose to calm it down. We may have to go through a lot more trouble. But as long as we keep our eyes on Him, we won’t sink.

Don’t forget that He’s there. Don’t get so overwhelmed with the difficult things in your life that you think He isn’t right there with you. Remind yourself that He has walked out into the storms of your life to stand with you in your darkest moments, and when you can see Him, don’t take your eyes off Him.

Just think. Storms are powerful things, with a beauty that calm, peaceful days can’t quite capture. But we’re afraid of storms–and rightly so. But if we walk with Jesus, the storms can’t touch us. So don’t be afraid of them. Embrace them. Walk in them along with Jesus, and you’ll get to see the storms from a different perspective. Because if the storm can’t hurt you, then you just get to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Rocks on the path at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Can you remember?

How do you handle stress? Stress is something everyone will eventually experience, and that’s probably a good thing. There can be good stress. Good stress is the stress that urges you to do better, to improve yourself, to keep growing. And that kind of stress helps you become a better employee, a better friend, a better person.

But bad stress seems more prevalent in everyone’s lives, at least it screams the loudest. So you’d think we’d want to manage good stress and avoid bad stress in our lives, right? Well, ideally, that would work, but this is real life. And stress is everywhere. Yes, it’s a choice for us to let it control our lives, but most of the time it will come upon us before we even realize it has us.

You can’t avoid stress. But you can change the way you react to it.

Rocks on the path at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Rocks on the path at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s passage is Isaiah 43:1-7 (the Message):

But now, God’s Message,
    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
    the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
    trade the creation just for you.

“So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
    I’ll round up all your scattered children,
    pull them in from east and west.
I’ll send orders north and south:
    ‘Send them back.
Return my sons from distant lands,
    my daughters from faraway places.
I want them back, every last one who bears my name,
    every man, woman, and child
Whom I created for my glory,
    yes, personally formed and made each one.’”

I don’t usually post only from the Message version, but this passage just has such wonderful ways of talking about difficult issues in life. Reading over it again, there isn’t any practical application for how to deal with stress, but there is a very important point:

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

Do you get that? Sometimes I forget. It’s so easy for me to get overwhelmed with everything I have to do in my life, especially this time of year. And when I get overwhelmed with life, I forget who I belong to. God paid a price for me. In accepting the salvation He offers (to everyone), I have freely chosen to give my life to Him. So it doesn’t belong to me anymore.

I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
    trade the creation just for you.

For Him to say this? I’m not worth that much. Just think about what God paid to have a relationship with you. It’s amazing. And I struggle with buying birthday gifts for people I love? Look at what God has done. Look at what He gave just to be able to have a conversation with me.

He’s God. And He loves us. How can we understand that? I’m not sure we can. Because you can say “I love you” over and over and over again and not really mean it, not really think about what it means, not really understand the weight of it. But when you back it up with action, when you show love, that’s different.

So I suppose the question isn’t how you deal with stress. It’s can you remember how much God loves you? And can you remember what He’s promised to do for you when you’re struggling with life?

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

Only God can make a promise like that. So if you’re in over your head today, remember you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to stay afloat in the circumstances life has thrown at you, remember that God won’t let you sink. And if you’ve finally reached the place where you can’t fall any farther, you still have somewhere to go. If you believe in Christ, God won’t ever give up on you, and He won’t ever let you go.

Maybe there’s a practical application to deal with stress, but the first step is remembering what God has promised you. The rest will fall into place.

Tree growing between two mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Choosing to act in spite of fear

Our world is full of fear. It seems like almost everyone is driven by it, whether they realize it or not. It’s so easy to give in to fear because it’s so sneaky all the time. It can just creep up on you in any circumstance, and before you know it, you’re making decisions based on it. But Christians aren’t supposed to make decisions based in fear.

Tree growing between two mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Tree growing between two mountains – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Psalm 46:1-2.

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.

The Psalms are full of instances where David talks about fear and being afraid and having courage, but Psalm 46 is one of those Psalms that stands out. If you have an opportunity to read it, you should.

What I love about this passage is that it identifies that God is our refuge and our source of strength. Not our abilities or our talents or our family members. Not our jobs. Not our homes. Not anything in the world. Not even our financial stability. God is our refuge. God is our strength.

That alone blows my mind. Because God made everything. He made the universe. He made the world. He made me. He knows how everything fits. He knows how everything works. He knows — well — everything. And not only does He provide a safe place for us to go when we’re afraid, this verse says He’s always ready to help.

I’ll be honest. I love people, but I’m not always ready to help them. I want to be. But I’m human enough to sometimes care more about my own comfort than someone else’s. I’m working on that. But God isn’t like that at all. He’s always ready to help.

But what I love about this verse the most is that it says “we will not fear.” Not “we do not fear” or “we can not fear” and not even that “we should not fear” but that “we will not fear.”

Maybe I’m a language nerd. Well, I am a language nerd. But that one little helping verb makes a huge difference in how we’re supposed to handle fear.

Fear is not something we should be ashamed of. Let’s be real with each other here. Everyone struggles with fear. It’s a universal problem. If it weren’t a problem for everyone, the Bible wouldn’t talk about it all the time. So if you’ve been afraid or if you are afraid or if you expect that you will be afraid again sometime in the future, don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t hide it. Don’t ignore it. It’s normal.

And I guarantee, if the earth starts quaking or if the mountains start crumbling into the sea, you’ll be afraid. You’re going to feel some fear. I would. But the beauty of the statement “we will not fear” indicates choice.

You can choose to be afraid. And likewise, you can choose to give that fear to God and let Him handle it.

Fear isn’t always voluntary. It comes on me unexpectedly at times. It surprises me more often than not because I don’t consider myself a timorous sort of person. But I do struggle with fear when it comes to trusting other people. And I’m learning that when I feel afraid I can actually choose what I do: to act on the fear or to act in spite of the fear. And the only way I can act in spite of fear is to give that fear to God and trust that He can take care of the details.

Giving something like fear to God is difficult because once you’ve given it to Him you have no more excuses not to act. You can give prayer requests to God all day long. That’s easy because in many cases those are circumstances where you can’t do anything. You can’t fix it, so just give it to God. Easy peasy. You can trust the future to God all day long. That’s easy too because we can’t see the future, and it’s not that difficult to turn over something you don’t understand to Someone who does. But fear?

Fear is my control mechanism. Fear tells me when to stop pushing. Fear tells me when I’ve gone too far. Fear tells me what other people think of me. And if I give that up, how will I have any control over my life?

But am I supposed to have control over my life? Is my life even my own?

No. It’s not. My life belongs to God.

So I can choose to live by fear and let it dictate my actions and my choices and my thoughts about people and my thoughts about myself. But if I do that, I’ll never live up to my potential. I’ll never get to do the things that God has for me to do. And if I don’t get to do the things that God has for me to do, why has He put me here? Why am I here if not to live for Christ?

Fear is a choice. God offers us the strength to face fear by relying on Him for the courage to act even when we feel like nothing is going to work. So the next time you encounter fear — the next time you feel afraid — stop. Recognize that you are afraid. Identify what’s scaring you. And make your decision: to either act on that fear or to give it to God and act in spite of it.

He won’t let you down.