Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rise Up, Church!

Once in a while, I will write about something raw in my life...struggles that God is currently leading me through. Usually, it takes time for me to process things before I want to record my thoughts in writing.  My brain works very slowly.  It's like everything around me has to pause so that I can focus on what God is teaching me, just to make sure I really get what He's saying.  I didn't want to write on this issue until I let the Lord lead me through it.  He led me to it, so I knew He would lead me through it, just as He led the disciples into the storm in the boat (which was scary) to show them that they did not need to fear; they just needed to rest in God's care and the shelter of His arms (Matthew 8:23-27).  If you find yourself facing any situation that elicits fear in you, know that the Lord is with you and is there to strengthen your faith and walk with you through it.  I have walked through fear, been crippled by it, chained by it, and paralyzed by it, so much that I could literally do nothing but sit.  I couldn't find a reason to smile or laugh, and I had, what seemed to my husband, to be a panic attack a few weeks ago.  And I am not a worrier by nature, so I knew something was really wrong.  When the Lord opened my eyes to the hold Satan had on my life, I knew a change was necessary.  I knew I needed to surrender all my fears to the Lord and let Him make over my deceitful heart because, as the Bible says in Jeremiah, "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?"  The emotions of my heart were leading me away from the heart of God and everyone around me was suffering because of it.  Satan had a drastic hold on me, so I took drastic measures.  I cut off all social media and spent some much needed focused time in the Word and prayer.  I also received counsel from very wise and patient friends.  Out of my struggle with fear (which I have dealt with on and off for a few years, and will probably have to fight again), this is what I feel the Lord has been speaking to me.  I hope this brings encouragement to your soul.  Listen to His gentle voice in your life.  Our faith is worth fighting for!!

Why are we Christians scared about what's happening in our culture and around the world?  Why are the current changes evoking fear and panic in us?  Should we be concerned?  Absolutely!  Grieved?  Absolutely!  Saddened?  Yes, because anything that grieves and saddens the heart of God should grieve and sadden us.  We should be disturbed and upset by the sin in our culture, but that should lead us into loving and compassionate actions that point others toward Jesus's love, not cause us to run and hide, alienate others, or condemn them.  Furthermore, we should have always been bothered by sin to the point where we are passionate about sharing the gospel with anyone who will listen.  Too many Christians have hidden their heads in the sand and pretended like the sin "out there" isn't a problem.  It has been too easy for us to ignore sin, excuse it away, and focus on our own lives rather than living out the calling that God has placed on the lives of all His followers, to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is what we are called to--to be light in the darkness and to love and serve others like Jesus did. Jesus came to "seek and save what was lost," not condemn them (Luke 19:10).  We "are the salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:13 & 14).  We are called to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" and to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Matt. 5:16 & Hebrews 10:24).  Where does fear have a role in that?  How can we respond in love when we are held captive by fear?  Fear causes me to lash out, to react in ways I wouldn't normally act.  It causes me to speak harshly, to bestow an unrighteous anger on people who Jesus died for, people he LOVES passionately.  How can God use us in the ways He has designed us and how can we do the "good works" that "God has prepared in advance for us to do" if we are motionless because of fear (Ephesians 2:10)?  Where does fear come from?  Not from God. One of the things my husband asked me when I was having my panic attack was "Is that how God speaks to you?" If we know God, and spend time with Him through His Word and in prayer, then we learn to hear His voice; we learn what His voice sounds like and become familiar with it.  His voice is tender, soft, and gentle.  His voice calls us into love, good deeds, and selflessness because we love Him and He is love.  The words He says to us should not send us into panic or on a downward spiral of fear and hopelessness.  2 Timothy 1:7 assures us that "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."  Since fear does not come from God, then it's not His voice if I am fearful.  It's important to know that because any other message than the one God gives us will lead us astray and away from the heart of God.

Our reactions to sinful movements and changes in our world, unfortunately, can give people a false picture of God.  Our reactions can send them racing away from God, rather than leaning into Him and resting in His love.  Instead of showing love and compassion to the lost, we get angry with them.  We get angry that "they" are "messing up" our beautiful and safe lives in our Christian bubbles.  We are frustrated that they are creeping in and infiltrating our homes, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and communities.  Maybe we have placed our security in the wrong things.  When I stepped back and identified the root of my fear, I found an idol.  When I really asked the Lord to seek my heart and my anxious thoughts, He revealed that I didn't want to lose my comfortable life.  I didn't want my children to grow up in a world where I could not shelter them from sin and evil.  I was holding this temporary life more dear to my heart than God and my eternal life with Him.  God never designed those things to keep us safe and He never designed us to live in this world forever.  He is our only refuge and He always has been.  Even though He has blessed us in this country with freedoms, privileges, and possessions, we are not entitled to them, nor should we place our security or value in them.  We were never created by God for anything other than to know Him and make Him known.  Anything else we have been given are blessings we are to use for His glory, not our own.  Because we have placed our security in worldly things and people instead of God, we don't know what to do now that our safety net has been pulled out from under us.  What do we do now that the world we have known is changing so quickly and can't be trusted?  Instead of running to our Refuge and Rock, we are running to Facebook, Instagram, our homes, leaders, etc.  We don't know what to do or how to react to current issues and the times we are facing because we have not spent the time we should lingering with God and in His Word.  We need to get back in the Word, which holds truth and the promises of God, and prayer and re-learn Who God is and who we are in Him.  Once we grasp that and understand just HOW MUCH He loves us, we will know how to react in ways that please Him and showcase His unfailing and unconditional love.  Our fears may not fade completely, but our faith will be bigger than our fear, and we will be equipped to handle the fiery darts Satan is throwing at us.  Remember, Satan is "the thief" who "comes to kill and steal and destroy" (John 10:10).  One way he does that is through fear.

With the birth of my third child, I decided to attempt it naturally.  During the pregnancy, because I had a 4 year-old and 1 year-old, and because of where we lived, I didn't have the opportunity to take any classes or have any formal training to prepare myself for natural childbirth.  I borrowed a book from a friend, which I may have read the first few pages and skimmed the rest, talked with friends who had experience with natural childbirth, and prayed.  Those were the only methods I used to prepare myself for this new adventure I would be undertaking.  I had conjured a plan to help cope with the pain as the contractions grew more and more intense and my daughter made her appearance into this world.  My plan was to focus on what the baby was doing because if I focused on the fact that there was a reason for the pain, then I wouldn't mind the pain so much...if it was productive pain, then magically, I could handle it.  I had also planned to recite Scripture and focus on meeting our precious little girl rather than focus on the pain.  What I learned was that, because of my inexperience and immaturity with natural childbirth, I was not trained enough to focus on anything but the pain.  I had not spent the time I should have adequately preparing and educating myself on what was to come.  The pain was so incredible that I actually started to panic and cry out, "I can't do this!  I can't do this!"  Immediately, the sweet nurse who was with me, leaned over the side of the bed and said in the most gentle voice I have ever heard, "You already are!  You're doing it!  And you're doing great!"  Those were the most reassuring and comforting words I could have heard at that moment.  There was no turning back, the baby was coming, and the nurse, along with my husband, were there to walk me through it, comforting me and helping me focus the whole way.  It's the same way with our Father.  If we are inexperienced with leaning on Him and immature in His Word, then when the pains of the world come upon us, we will be focused on the pain too much to focus on our Father and hear His loving, comforting voice.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  He is right there beside us, whispering to us, walking with us, and holding our hands.  He wants to help us through tough times because He loves us.  We need to be informed of what's happening in our world, but we don't need to be consumed by it.  We have life in us, real life, that we need to be giving away.  We are the light of the world.  Similarly, if we spend all our time fighting fear instead of being immersed with the Word of God, we will wear ourselves out.  The solution is not to fight or will ourselves against fear, but to fill ourselves with God's Word and prayer so that there is so much of God in us that there is no more room for fear; we are literally filled up with the truths and promises of God that Satan and his lies have nowhere to reside in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

We can gain much wisdom from Jesus Himself.  As His time to die on the Cross drew near, He was grieved.  As the pains of the world came crashing in, He withdrew from the crowds to pray in solitude with His Father.  That's how He stayed connected and dependent on God.  If Jesus needed to do that, how much more do we need that in our lives to prepare us for whatever struggles we will face?  Jesus even asked God that the cup be passed from Him, but He would trust His Father to do whatever His will was for Jesus.  We can take that as an example for us and pray the same way.  We can get on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc, but we don't need to linger there.  There are plenty of people with plenty of opinions, but few who speak truth.  Ultimately, it's the Lord Who holds the future and it's His voice we need to hear.  He is the only One Who knows the times and dates of the future (Acts 1:7), and I refuse to miss out on the days He is giving me now because of Satan's hold on me.  I refuse to be held captive by fear and miss out on all the blessings God is giving me.  I will not be held captive by fear in my own home with my own family, when Jesus has died to set me free.  So, we can hang out on Facebook and read the plethora of articles that incite fear and panic in Christians, or we can spend our moments in God's Word and in prayer and hold onto the voice of the One Who speaks truth and the One Who created us and loves us more than anything else.  His voice doesn't incite fear and panic.  His voice leads us into truth and leads us to His heart.  Instead of posting articles that bring about fear and panic, we should be encouraging and building each other up.  I'm not saying that it's impossible, but no one usually wins an argument on Facebook, nor wins anyone to Christ.  Go out, build relationships with those around you, and let God use you the way He intended.  Trust Him to finish the work He has started in you.

So, I will end with these points of truth.

1.  God is FOR us.  He truly is, and He loves us so passionately and completely that He's holding us in His hands.  Truly grasp and meditate on how much He loves us.  He is FOR us.  If He is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?  No one can change our eternity if we have been saved.

2.  God is still God and He never changes.  He is still on His throne and nothing that is happening is taking Him by surprise or causing Him to panic.  He's got this in His hands.  He is our loving Father; He will take care of us.  Nothing happens to us or around us without first passing through His hands.  I have heard people say that God is still God and He is still on the throne, but I was not able to grasp the magnitude of those statements until recently, and it radically changed my perspective.  He IS in control.  People might think they have control and they might behave as if they do, but God is the only One Who has complete control.  He reigns!  This world is not spiraling out of His control (John 16:33).  He is holding it all together.

3.  We do not need to fear scary situations. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and we will not lose sight of His love and faithfulness.  Rest in Him.  Find your peace and comfort in His love.

4.  We already have the victory!  John 16:33 says "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  This is our God and we are on His team.  He has already won!  Now, help us win the souls of men as we press on with confidence in our Father.  He loves us!