Monday, March 31, 2014

Restoration Project - Overcoming Fear

"And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you." Ezekial 36:26

Walking in God’s promises really is life changing. There's so many aspects of my heart that have been transformed into something new and I hope to share as much of that as possible in the future. One of the struggles I have had to overcome was my intense sense of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. Fear that screams "You're 31 and single!" - "All your friends are married and now having children!" - "When will you find the career path that's right for you?" - "When are you going to do something with your life?" Crazy, intense, fear.

It's easy to look at the way things panned out. See the mistakes I made highlighted as if made for a blooper reel that is stuck on repeat. It's even easier to believe that the things of the past have total control over what the future holds. But that was the old heart. That was before I found out the Truth.

Even though you may not realize it, God is using this pain for good. James 1:2 tells us “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Because of this statement friends, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” Romans 8:28.

You might ask how I could even rely on this as my hope? How these simple scriptures can change an outlook. If you are, then I’m glad, because this is the point I’m trying to get to. Even before I was a follower of Jesus, I always believed that everything happened for a reason. Without a doubt in my mind I could always look back and see how the pieces fit and why certain things had to happen the way they did. What my Savior has shown me is that I can also look ahead to see how the pieces will fit. He may or may not show me His plan, most of the time it will still be unknown. But we know that He works all things together for our good. We know that He’s seen our steps and already walked with us down every path before we even set out to walk.

Because of this fact we can consider it pure joy when facing our trials in this life, knowing that there is a purpose. That everything happens for a reason. Knowing that God is not only walking with us, but that he paved the way before us. He also promises that because of our pain He will bless us.

It’s in these trials He has given me this new promised heart and spirit. It hasn't been quick. Some days have been agonizingly slow and painful. Satan knows the Lord is working and so he will put any obstacle in my way to send me back to my former, comfortable self.

It is a blessing to say that I finally feel I’m over the breaking point. I wish I could give specifics that could show you just how my heart has been transformed. Having a new heart changes your attitude, it changes your reactions, it changes your thoughts, it changes your emotions, it changes your outlook, it changes your beliefs, and it changes you.

I've noticed a significant change in the way that I handle stressful situations as opposed to my old self. In the past immediately anxiety would creep up, I would be overwhelmed, panicky, and sometimes start crying because I just “couldn't deal” with it. Now when a stressful situation arises I find that more often than not I go to God first. I give it to Him and try not to think about the things in the future that I cannot control. I approach the matter with more of a sense of calm. But most importantly, I approach the situation with a hope rather than defeat. That has made all the difference in the world.

A dear friend gave me a book she owned for years and read countless times. It’s called 'Hinds Feet on High Places.' It’s about a young girl named Much-Afraid who journeys into the wilderness to ascend a mountain to the highest place where her enemies cannot harm her. She is handicapped and has relatives whose last name is Fear. She takes this journey at the promise of the Shepherd who vows to take her to the high places, to remove her lameness and give her feet like deer. This book really is incredible if you haven’t read it, I recommend it. The story outlines the journey each of us takes in our own lives [it may not sound like it would, you'll just have to trust me].

I marked off a spot in this book that I believe speaks to how we should deal with the unknown future. When I’m dealing with a situation that I think will affect the course of my life I can’t help but think of the worst case scenarios. It’s just always been what I do. When you are accustomed to bad things happening you begin to expect them. So this is a command that I've really taken to heart and tried to apply as much as possible.

“Much-Afraid, don’t ever allow yourself to begin trying to picture what it will be like. Believe me, when you get to the places which you dread you will find that they are as different as possible from what you have imagined, just as was the case when you were actually ascending the precipice. I must warn you that I see your enemies lurking among the trees ahead, and if you ever let Craven Fear begin painting a picture on the screen of your imagination, you will walk with fear and trembling and agony, where no fear is.”

What does the Shepherd mean that we will walk with fear in a place where no fear is? It means there is no fear in God. To try to predict the potential destruction of our future robs us from our trust in God and leaves us alone to worry. We cannot be both fearful and trusting in God. It just doesn't work that way. It's like oil and vinegar. They do not mix well.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7 God did not create us to have fear. This is man-made, learned behavior. Our past experiences taught us to fear the future ones. Friends and family who constantly worry helped develop our fear. Watch the news for a half hour and try not to be fearful or worrisome about something. But in God we do not have to be prisoners to fear. God has given us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. 

Like Much-Afraid I’ve often predicted an alternative ending to how things actually happened. My imagination was always so much worse than how things turned out. Reminds me of lyrics from one of Sara's songs, "I miss the days that my mind would just rest quiet. My imagination hadn't turned on me yet." This is exactly what happens when our minds start racing. Our imaginations can literally destroy our hearts, allowing fear of the unknown to take over. Our “enemies” lurk everywhere waiting to grab hold of our earthly imagination. These enemies are not always people but can be situations, a bad diagnosis, an extremely low bank balance, talk of worldly affairs, and even someone else’s fear. We need to seek to get back to what we were born with. A mind that would just rest quiet.

I wanted to end with this well known quote from Franklin D Roosevelt's first inaugural speech;

"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." 

Friends, this is powerful. If you've never stopped to think about this statement, do it with me now. The only thing to be fearful of is the fleshly nature to be fearful, which occurs when we take our eyes off of the Creator who is in control. This fear paralyzes us where we are. It stops us from advancing forward in our lives. It catches a hold on us and does not let us go.

This is one place that I've felt transformed. Where I've been given a “new spirit” along with my transformed heart. It is a diligent effort to not let my thoughts run wild instilling fear into my heart. How about you? If you are walking with fear, trembling and agony then it’s time to ask God for help. Let Him take away the fear. Let Him be your comforter and your restorer. Ask Him to allow your mind to just rest quiet so that you can advance into your future with hopeful expectation.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Jonah - Part Two

A quick hello to all my She Reads [Shares!] Truth ladies who are joining me from the weekly blog share!
For anyone who is not familiar with SheReadsTruth, please check them out!

We meet our friend Jonah in chapter three as he finally goes to Nineveh to deliver God's word to the wicked city. When we left him in chapter two he was repenting to the Lord and singing praises to his name. His last verse in chapter two states "Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed, I will make good. I will say 'Salvation comes from the Lord."

This is the point where God tells the giant fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. What a lucky guy! Three days in a fish in the sea and he can live to tell the story. So he learns his lesson, no more running - he immediately goes to Nineveh to deliver the message from God.

Upon hearing the doom that will become of them, the entire city repents, fasts, vows and sacrifices to the Lord. They do nothing else but these things in hope that God will have mercy on them. They realize their evil ways and seek to undo God's plan.

Let me tell you a secret, God is a compassionate God. If you have sinned and ask for forgiveness, truly being sorry for your sins, God is bound to forgive you. Everyone should learn that truth. Even Jonah who in chapter two says "Salvation comes from The Lord." The very first time Jonah proclaims the message, the entire city did a one-eighty. They didn't waste time, didn't need to hear the message a second time. God, who can search anyone's heart and know their sincerity, has compassion and relents from his anger and does not deliver the suffering He promised.

So naturally Jonah is happy right? He was so fearful to deliver the message - but he finally gave in. Now the Lord isn't even going to be angry anymore! But now Jonah is angry... wait, what?! Talk about dramatic. He says to The Lord "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." Okay.... So?? "Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." Okay... seriously? How old are we?

Is anyone else completely frustrated with Jonah at this point? I mean, first of all, he's angry at God for showing compassion to the most wicked city when they truly made good to change their ways. What Jonah doesn't see is that even though he's not known as wicked and evil like the city of Nineveh, the Lord has been just as gracious to him. They threw him into a raging sea for crying out loud! He should have already been dead, but God provided a miracle unlike anything ever told before and Jonah survives thanks to God's great mercy. The same mercy Jonah was praising at the end of chapter two.

Furthermore, shouldn't he be happy that thanks to his willingness to listen to God a city of people have now been saved? How awesome is that?! That God could deliver a message through one man that saves one hundred and twenty thousand people! Isn't this the point of everything we are taught through His word? To teach others about the love of God and pray that they may seek Him and love Him as well? The more the merrier, right?!

I really don't know what his problem is. However, don't we all know someone like this? You cannot please some people. Not even if you are the Almighty God. Jonah wishing he was dead instead of the Lord having compassion on others? Self-centered DRAMA. Of course God tries to put him in his place by responding "Is it right for you to be angry?" .. I guess I couldn't have said it better myself!

But the story does not end here.. God still is trying to show Jonah His love even though Jonah is being completely ridiculous. Because that's what our Heavenly Father does for us. Jonah seeks out shelter close enough to the city to wait "to see what would happen to the city." So even though Jonah is still in his mood swing God shows grace, making a plant that grew over Jonah's head to provide him shade while he throws his tantrum. Finally, something makes Jonah happy again! [Of course, since it's "All About Jonah!" quick, somebody get this guy his own reality show!]

That is until the next day when God sent a worm to destroy the plant and the sun to scorch Jonah's head until he grew faint! The point God was trying to prove is that there are more important things to care for than a plant. That surely humankind should receive more compassion than this plant. And as a humble reminder, Jonah didn't have anything to do with either the plant or the city prospering or not. This is not about him. This is about God.

But of course, our friend Jonah is still angry and again wishes he were dead. I wonder if at any point God considers just letting him die by the raging sea. But then I realize if He did that, Nineveh wouldn't have been saved. That's the mercy of God. He sees our drama and doesn't stop the lesson.

God says to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" Once again, couldn't have said it better myself. Jonah replies, "It is, I'm so angry I wish I were dead."

Really. Super. Frustrating. How can someone who hears from God so clearly not understand a thing God is doing? The final thing the Lord says is "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend to it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left - and also many animals?"

That's it. That's the final line of this chapter. The story just ends abruptly. God has the last word. We don't know Jonah's response. We don't know what happened to Jonah. He's not found anywhere else in the bible. His ending is a mystery. Maybe God let him die. Maybe God sent him to an island to live by himself for the rest of his life. I'm guessing it was not anything Jonah deserved by my standards. But instead, by God's love, I bet He continued to try to teach Jonah what a great thing this was. So what can we possibly learn from this short story? This quick ending?

God is compassionate.
He is in control, not us.
We do not get to tell Him what to do.
God will not stop pursuing us.
Furthermore, we can't avoid His calling or transfer it to someone else.
We can be angry for His compassion on sinners, but there's a word for that called hypocrisy.
There will be times when we don't understand, but God does.
We should seek understanding, not anger.
Our bad attitude can become an idol that blocks God's love.

Never once did we hear Jonah ask God why He was showing compassion on such an evil city. Perhaps if he asked, God would have told him at that time. Yet, although Jonah didn't ask, God still did a show and tell. He gave a physical example of His spiritual grace.

Jonah's stance became his idol. He would not let go of his anger, no matter how the Lord tried to change his heart. In his own words Jonah proclaimed the one thing that would turn him from God's love. "Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them." We cannot have hatred in our heart and receive love at the same time. "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." 1 John 4:20. Because of Jonah's inability to love the city which repented and turned to God, he could not receive God's love. His anger, jealousy, hatred, and bitterness were literally blocking the beams of light God was trying to shine into him.

Perhaps we're in our own dark place. We can't understand God showing mercy to certain people. Maybe these people have hurt us personally so it leaves our hearts tender and raw. Let's choose not to react like Jonah. Let's choose to ask for discernment. Let us remember the many times God has been gracious to us when we didn't deserve it. Let's not speak so dramatically negative that our story ends abruptly. Let's seek His graciousness in our own lives and be thankful that He is gracious to all sinners - not select sinners. These are our brothers and sisters and anyone who is for the Lord is on our side. We cannot love God until we've removed our negative attitudes towards others. Let us not react like Jonah did but how we would assume Nineveh did. With songs of praise, glory to His Highest, and love for one another.

Because Jonah had it right the first time, "Salvation comes from the Lord."


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jonah - Part One

I follow along with this great online community called SheReadsTruth. It's been wonderful to study besides this group of women. Recently they began doing blog shares on Fridays. This is where all the lovely ladies of She Reads Truth can link to their blog on whatever passage we've been studying. 

We are studying Jonah. You know him, the prophet who ended up in the whale. Maybe like me, you don't know how he got there. Maybe even like me, until recently you didn't even realize this was a bible story!

Some quick things to catch you up (this is a super short book, only 3 or so pages- take a read if you never have). Jonah heard the voice of God telling him to travel to Nineveh to tell the people pretty much that God was angry at them. Johah, terrified of the wicked city instead got on a boat and took off in the opposite direction! What I find interesting is that they call out that he paid the fare to get on the boat away "from the presence of The Lord"... He actually paid money to run away from God's calling. I wonder if I've ever done something like that unknowingly.

On the trip to Tarshish on this boat we find Jonah peacefully sleeping while a wicked sea storm is rising. He must have been pretty content thinking that The Lord would just pick someone else to go to Nineveh instead. But God doesn't really work that way.

What I love most about this story, maybe more than Jonah's repentance later on, is the fact that while Jonah was rebelling, God was meeting new people. Here in this story it says that "Every man on the boat cried out to his god" for relief from the storm. When the gods of these men didn't respond they awoke Jonah and told him "Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish." Suddenly, these men seem to be willing to put their faith in anything that would work.

Jonah confesses that he was running from The Lord. He knows this is exactly why the storm is happening and tells the men to throw him overboard so they can be saved from God's wrath. The men who were now afraid of God and not wanting to kill Jonah tried to row to land, but the storm continued to worsen.

The next thing is quite amazing. We see these men call out to God themselves! Subliminally here I see that they are declaring God's sovereignty, admitting He is the one in control.  "We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man's life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleases You." After this prayer they throw Jonah overboard where the storm immediately stopped. (Jonah as you know, ends up in the belly of the fish). Because of the storms immediate calm the men feared The Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

How incredible. Because of one man's attempt to run God was able to call more people to himself. Remember at the beginning of this story that every man had his own god. Now not only are they declaring He's sovereign, they are offering Him sacrifices and making vows to Him! In less than maybe an hour The Lord had reached men that He may not have reached if Jonah had obeyed. There truly is beauty in God knowing our every step, even when it's the wrong one. This story is a perfect example that He works all things together for good.

I can see examples of this in my own life, where I took the wrong step or went down the wrong path and God still provided blessings. The joy of God is that He sees our steps before we take them so He has so intricately woven in blessings even when we're on the wrong path. He never leaves us. Amen for that.

How about you? Have you ever felt God working even when you know you didn't do what you were called to do?


Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Choose You

So I wanted to give a brief introduction to my blog name. The one I sought out for a while before it came to be. You see, I always knew I wanted to have a blog but I wasn't sure what it would be about. [Literally, it's been years that I've considered this. I like to talk, what can I say?] Would it be about my favorite local eateries? Would I include recipes for my favorite dishes? Should I post about the things I'm crafting? Books I'm reading? Songs I'm loving? Concerts I've been to, local happenings, favorite people...What would it be?

See, all this stuff is great...and I may from time to time share those additional things. However, after spending the past 6 months completely immersed in God's word and His promises it became pretty clear to me this is the answer I had been searching for but never asked for. Doesn't God do just that with so many things?

You see, one thing I've learned is that everything is done for God's glory. If you aren't doing it for God's glory, then you might as well quit. I'm not saying you can't do things and receive pleasure from it, joy, accolades, a sense of encouragement. But if you really want to truly be blessed by God, then I believe the best rewards will come when seeking to praise Him. So a blog was born.
"Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
                                         -1 Corinthians 10:31
Now as some of you may already know, I am a huge Sara Bareilles fan. [We are on a first name basis around here, so from this point forward I will simply refer to her as Sara]. As far as I'm concerned she is a lyrical genius. If you don't already love her then I suggest you get familiar with her. She's awesome. Anyways, I tried for days to come up with a blog title from one of her songs. The great thing about blogs on the internet is that someone could have started it in 2005 and never even posted and the blog name is still taken. Thus making it that much harder. Then in God's perfect timing Sara's newest song "I Choose You" came on. I've loved this song since the first day I heard it. If I was getting married soon this song would so be integrated into my wedding somehow, someway. [and quite possibly be even if that's years from now...please note.]

I was listening to the words of the song that I've heard countless times and I said to God, "This is really my song to you!" I had to choose God. I had to choose joy. I had to choose to allow God to have control of the parts of my life that I fear losing. Like I said in my last post, I've been at these crossroads before. But never like this. I've never been so sure of something and then lost it. This was a different ball game and I had to choose to let God in to repair what I had thought I knew how to build. He stood by for years letting me try it on my own. I believe so that when I finally turned to Him I would know just how much I needed His help. How incapable I was on my own. While listening to Sara and reflecting on these things the bridge of the song came on and it was like the angels opened up Blogger to the perfect blog title. [I kid you not, I think I heard the heavenly "Ahhh!" with harps being strung as I typed in the blog name and it said "Available!"]
"My whole heart, will be yours forever 
This is a beautiful start, of a lifelong love letter..." 
                                                -Sara [Bareilles]

Because isn't this a beautiful new start that I've been given? That's the grace of God, my friends. He is infamous for new beginnings. "Then you found me and everything changed. And I believe in something again."  [Really, this song just begs to be analyzed]

The funny thing is that God already sang this song to me. God has been loving me since before I was born. He's had each step planned out. He has his blessing planned out. He already started this lifelong love letter.
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you."
                                                - John 15:16

There's so much more I could say about these scriptures. How they all tie in so perfectly with the place that I'm in right now. However, I believe there will be a time where it'll be better suited that I get into the details with you.

If you would like to check out Sara's song click here to be taken to a lyric video. Let me know what you think!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Discovering Grace

For everyone it's different... How they get to the point. The point where there is not a single person on earth who could turn back the pages or make your aching heart feel better. It's in that hour of desperation that you have a choice to make... Press fully into God and His promises or desperately and unknowingly try to piece back together the broken parts of your heart yourself. 

I've been here before. I've experienced great loss. Friends and family. Friends who I cared deeply for regardless of the length of time I knew them or how much we were in each other's presence. Friends that could light up the room by walking in. Those who make you feel like they truly wanted to know everything about you. Family that you never expected to lose. Time cut way too short.  Nothing is as devastating as losing people you care deeply for to the hand of fate.

Well, except maybe losing people you care deeply for who made the decision to fade away. We can't ever understand Gods plan when he takes a young life, the process to try to understand causes ripples sometimes lasting for a lifetime. But when it's a personal choice and you're left on the end with the cut rope fraying in your hands the effects don't ripple softly. Instead they seem unrelenting as they crash intensely to the shore. One person can cut the tie with friends to degrees in the double digits. When there are people out there who you love with all your heart, who you would give anything to spend more time with but you can't, it feels like the storm of the century.

So here's the option... You can jump ship and try to swim to shore in a foreign land on the raging seas or you can anchor down to wait it out with all your hope while seeking The One who can calm all storms. Don't get me wrong, you don't only wait in the storm... There is still work to be done, you must prepare your boat to sustain the rough winds and high tide. But the storm is better in the shelter of my boat then it is clutching to a life raft in the middle of the ocean.

Friends, for 30 years of my life I tried to swim to shore. Surely it's safer there and I didn't have to worry about motion sickness on land. But here's the funny thing, I can't swim. Quite literally, I'm terrified of deep water and I'm terrified when I can't see what's below the surface. I don't belong out here by myself. Trying to navigate to dry land just drifted me further and further away. I would get caught up in the heavy current and find myself a long way off from where I started. Battered, worn, shaking and afraid. Some great plan, but what was I supposed to do with no one to guide me?

But here's the saving grace - my life-guard? He walks on water. He calms the storm. And when there's nothing else I can do but wait out the storm, He gives me hope as an anchor. 

And that's just it.. The moment of truth. The moment I felt most absolutely alone in my life with not a single person to turn to who would care or understand me, that's where I found God. [It was not at the corner of First and Amistad]. It was at the lowest point of my life. I couldn't see any glimmer of hope and I didn't want to face another day. I was desperate and pleading, surely this couldn't be all that my life becomes. I always thought maybe my story could be different then the way it was staged by my past but in this moment I didn't even believe that anymore. Lower than low. 

That's when it happened. I was crying out to God and just seeking comfort. In the middle of a full blown panic attack, I had a vision. I was leaning into Jesus and we were sitting on the beach. I was crying hysterically and he had his arm around me to comfort me. I asked Him to show me that things will get better, that there's a reason for this. What I saw next I will share if and when the moment arrives. Until then it's between Jesus and myself. Let me tell you something about that part though, what He showed me... in my moment of absolute devastation, in the middle of a panic attack, where I couldn't stop crying and I couldn't breathe, I was IMMEDIATELY overcome with joy. And this isn't a "Surprise! Here's a piece of chocolate cake for no reason!" joy ...[insert your pure joy moment here]... No, this was joy that surpassed all understanding. I truly cannot explain it other than to say that I have NEVER in my life been as happy and at peace as I was in that moment. It was just surreal. 

So thus my journey has begun. My journey to find the indescribable joy and peace I felt. To discover the grace of God that has been extended to me this whole time. I hope you will follow along as I share my take on my experiences. My new outlook on life. I hope that maybe it'll shed a new perspective for you. I don't claim to know what I'm talking about- all I can do is speak from my heart and trust that what I stumble upon has some truth. I plan on being as honest and open with the details as I can because I believe that if I do that it will encourage you, that whatever your storm looks like, that it's worth trusting God through it.

So my question is this: Will you wait out the storm with me?