Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Death Grip on My Kingdom

Let me introduce you to my new friend, a king named Balak.

I recently studied about Balak in Numbers 22-25 and I saw myself. If you know Balak's story, you know that this could prove to be unfortunate.

As the Israelites were camped on the Promised Land's border, Balak was the king of a nation called Moab. Moab's people watched as Israel defeated Sihon and Og, their neighbors to the north. The Israelites defeated the Amorites, who had previously defeated Moab. In Balak's logic, that must mean the Israelites could and would defeat them too.

By faith, Balak could have turned to the true and living God for help. The Moabites were descendants of Lot, Abraham's cousin. (Genesis 11-14; 19). [Though Lot had a messy and inconsistent faith, He is remembered as a righteous man. (2 Peter 2:7-8). Righteousness does not come from being "good," God credits faith as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6).]

Sadly, Balak forgot, either intentionally or through neglect, some truths about the God of his forefathers. He forgot that Lot's God is true, living, active and totally sovereign. If God wanted the Moabites inhihilated, they could do nothing to stop it. Or, maybe Balak intentionally ignored God's sovereignty because He didn't want God messing up the kingdom that he had in his possession and power. Turning to the true God might disrupt Moab's deeply entrenched pagan culture and habits. Balak's approval ratings as king of Moab would surely plummet.

Forgetting God's true character led Balak to fear, worry, and stew over the Israelites impending march on the Promised Land. Rather than being delivered from his fear, Balak was driven deeper into it. Without faith, Balak grasped for control of destiny, seeking help from a well-known diviner named Balaam. Divination uses supernatural knowledge and dark powers to gain control and an advantage in the universe. Balak offered Balaam large sums of money to curse Israel. When Balaam told Balak that God commanded that Israel could not be cursed, Balak spent untold resources sending his people to travel all over with Balaam trying to convince him to curse them anyway.

Balak's efforts were futile. God is sovereign. He can't be manipulated. His plans can't be thwarted.

Balaam not only refused to curse Israel, he blessed them.

God was on Israel's side. No human or worldly power was going to prevail against them.

If we know Jesus, God is on our side. No human power can prevail against us.

In my last post, I gave this definition of fear: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.,whether the threat is real or imagined. The impending danger to the Moabites was imagined. Unbeknownst to Balak, God had said to Moses, "Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given [it] to the descendants of Lot as a possession." (Deuteronomy 2:9).

If Balak had just waited patiently, God's plan would have unfolded -- a plan that left the Moabites' territory unscathed. Instead Balak wasted a lot of manpower, brainpower and other resources trying to prevent something that wasn't even a real threat. He was determined to stop this "impending" danger that he had concocted in his own mind. Balak would spare no cost, and would stop at nothing, in order to keep his grip on his kingdom.

Here's where I began to sense the similarities between Balak and me. When I forget God's true character, I worry, fear, and stew over the future. I find myself holding onto my life with a formidable death grip, imagining all kinds of impending dangers that could threaten my plans. These dangers are not "real." They might be thoughts that are confirmed to be true later. But, as I'm worrying, none of them have actually come to pass.

As fear spins around and around in my head, it grows bigger and begins to take on a life of its own. Those imagined dangers become my brain's warped reality. Sometimes fear can lead us to do some crazy things. But, it can also lead us to do some things that aren't so crazy. Things that are rational. Things that the world would say are acceptable, even commendable. For example, Balak's use of a diviner might seem crazy to us, bringing to mind late night informercials for psychic phone lines. But, in that culture, diviners were a very logical option. No one would have thought twice about divination's validity. According to worldly standards, Balak was making wise and savvy use of his country's resources in order to gain an upper hand and control.

What seems wise in the eyes of the world is often foolish to the Lord. "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them." (1 John 4:4-5). What God cares about is me having a heart that trusts Him. He wants me to believe and act as if His Word is true. His Word says He is in complete control, He loves me perfectly, and wants what's best for me. If that's true, why would I follow the way of the world by trying to control my life?

In Philippians 4:8, we are exhorted to think on whatever is true, which doesn't leave room for ruminating on the dangers, toils and snares that my brain has imagined. Like Balak, I want to keep my "kingdom" the way I have it, under my control. Also like Balak, any control I fancy myself having is smoke and mirrors. Whether or not I remember or choose to believe it, God is still totally sovereign. His plans can't be thwarted. "He is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him" (Psalm 115:3).

This truth used to totally freak me out, just like it had Balak scrambling to keep his kingdom. When I first began wrestling with God's sovereignty, I would almost meltdown. The lack of control it gave me was enough to give me a full-blown panic attack. I thought I needed that control. I thought I wanted my life just the way I had it. I liked my husband, children, house, Suburban, homeschool, cookie baking, perfect Christmas card, Bible study life. The thought of any piece of it crumbling was just too much for me.

Then my life blew up and some of the pieces of my kingdom imploded. And it was hard and it was painful. But, I saw God and I knew that He had a plan and that I could rest in it. I would even tell you that I'm thankful for the pain I walked through, because it changed me in the best way possible and I would never go back to the way I was before. I resolved to never doubt again. To hold loosely to things in this life. And I wrote posts about being Fearless and handing all of my stuff over to the Lord and letting Him have His Way.

But . . . as life went on, I acquired new pieces to my kingdom. And, I found myself once again holding on to them with a chokehold that would squeeze the life out of the most formidable opponent. I found myself full of fear and anxiety that something might not go the way I want it to. And I found myself acting in my fear, wanting to control everything, wanting to manipulate things to help God get it "right." Forgetting that those things are not really mine, they are His because "the earth is the Lord's and EVERYTHING in it." (Psalm 24:1).

Thankfully, God has stepped in and said, "enough." He's not letting me keep circling the same mountain of fear and anxiety that I've circled before. Praise Jesus. By His Grace, He's breaking the cycle. He's using the lessons He taught me before to help me choose a different way of doing things. Every time I turn around, He's helping me to be willing to have my kingdom shaken up a little. I'm learning to rest in whatever His plan might be. It takes intentional practice to wait patiently and see what God is doing behind the scenes. He's shown me that I don't want to continue in Balak's footsteps, fighting for a kingdom that wasn't in jeopardy.

For the past week, I've been listening to a song on repeat that says: "So let go, my soul, and trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name." The same Jesus who showed me He was trustworthy four years ago, and worthy of being trusted with my kingdom, is still the same Jesus today. I knew I could be fearless because the storm had no choice but to obey Him. Nothing has changed. He's given me everything I need to let go of my futile attempts at control and to just wait for His good plans to unfold.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Strong and Courageous

One of the themes that God is screaming at me is Be Strong and Courageous.

Be Strong and Courageous.

At Bible Study Fellowship this year, we are studying the Life of Moses, which is also the story of the Israelite's journey from Egypt/Slavery to the Promised Land/Freedom. IF:Gathering was centered on Joshua and the Israelites taking the Promised Land. Last weekend's retreat centered on that same journey.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

God is screaming at me. Not whispering. Screaming.

It's a command. Not a suggestion. But, before I depict God as a hard-driving taskmaster, let me say that the beauty is that He does the work in me to make me strong. Just when I think I'm going to cave in fear, anxiety and worry, God steps in and works strength and courage into my heart. This is not a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of command. This is a begging and pleading with God to give me what I need kind of command.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fear. (Psalm 34:4)

That verse doesn't say he delivered me from all of the things, situations, people and places I fear. It says that He will deliver me from my fear. Let's get technical. Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.,whether the threat is real or imagined. It is the feeling or condition of being afraid. Another definition says that fear is anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur. That emotion, feeling, condition or anticipation is what God delivers us from. 

Jesus says do not be terrified . . . for I will be with you wherever you go. For the past couple of months I have had an intense internal struggle with being terrified, scared that life won't work out the way I want it to. However, God is getting to the root of my heart. He's showing me that I fear because I don't actively remember what difference it makes that He is with me. It's in these times that I have believed a lie that God is just passively there, inactive, just watching as I hurt. Yes, I am thinking that He loves me and has sympathy for me. But, not thinking of Him as doing anything about it. 

But, God cannot be separated from His character and I have to cooperate with the Spirit and purposely appropriate the Truth that I know about Him from His Word. As my friend Sarah said yesterday: "Yes, we need to build that temple to honor Him and what He's done, but we too have to quit circling that same mountain and turn North (Deuteronomy 2: 2-3)." For me, turning North is going to require taking my anxious thoughts captive and choosing to think on who God REALLY is. 

If He is with me then He is totally in control. Totally sovereign. He's not just with me. He is actively and intimately involved in, and in control, of the details of my life. Whatever I am suffering might not look like I think it should or what I hoped for, but I have a fixed blessing from God who said "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5; Deut. 31:6). 

Hebrews 13:6 goes on to say "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid." God is not passive. He is not only with us, He helps us. God wasn't just with the Israelites, He made it clear that it was Him who won the battles. As Moses told the Israelites, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." (Exodus 14:14). 

When we start believing the lie that God is just there, an inactive bystander, let's combat that lie with the Truth. Jesus is not made by the hands of men, He is not like the idols that we create . . . idols who cannot see, hear, small, feel, walk, or talk. (See Psalm 115). Instead, He fights, He saves, He delivers, He provides, He leads, He protects, He speaks, He cares, He heals, He creates. Intricately involved in our lives, Jesus changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. (Daniel 2:21). The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a river wherever He pleases. (Proverbs 21:1). 

Remembering God's true character is what causes the knowledge of His presence to give me true joy and peace. It's what allows me to take courage. It allows me to stop being afraid. I'm learning to purposely seek Him, asking Him to help me remember who He REALLY is and what He REALLY does, and in that constant remembering He is delivering me from my fear. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Same Old Song

This past weekend, I had the privilege of getting away with one of my dearest friends, Lauren, as she served as a retreat speaker for the first time ever. God worked through her in amazing ways. It was pure joy to just be there and take it all in. Okay, it was also glorious to sleep through the night both nights and take a loooong nap on Saturday.

During her final speaking session, Lauren talked about Joshua 4, where God commands the Israelites to create a memorial of stones after they crossed the Jordan River. Lauren encouraged us to similarly remember what God is doing in our lives. And, I was reminded of something I'd written almost three years ago:

Last night we sat on a back patio having dinner with new friends. A friendship the Lord brought together in real life via two girls writing two blogs. Sarah and I could have crossed paths in many other ways and other times. But the Lord chose to use now and our writing to cause our families's lives to collide. 

And we get the joy of experiencing the Lord, as He pulls back the veil just a bit so that we can see the way He weaves our lives and days with the journeys of others around us. And in those moments there is just no denying that He places us where we are. That He is Sovereign over our moments, our comings and goings. That He alone orchestrates where we are and who are we with. That He hems us in behind and before.

In Joshua 4, the Israelites finally crossed into Israel, under Joshua's leadership. The Lord told Joshua to tell twelve men to each take a stone from the Jordan River. The men were to carry them across the Jordan River, into Israel. The stones were set up as a memorial for the Israelites and their children to remember forever what the Lord had done for them.

We (thus far in life) don't have a river that needs crossing and we haven't been wandering in the desert for 40 years. We have other wanderings, other struggles. But, God shows up in the midst of it all in so many ways. Sometimes it's in providing a new friendship when we weren't expecting it.  Such a blessing. And as we interact with people who He has placed in our lives, they are almost like a memorial in themselves. They remind us of the way the Lord orchestrated a friendship. Far more fun than a dozen stones, I might add.

And, recording those moments where the veil is pulled back gives us memorials to look back on, later in life, in times of doubt. It gives us another way to remember. And then for our children to know and remember the ways God was at work in their lives, too. Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, says, "[i]n memory, the shape of God's yesterday-heart emerges and assures of God's now-heart and reassures of his sure beat tomorrow."

Ann's words articulate my heart in blogging and recording our memories. That our family would look back and, in our own history, see God's faithfulness in the biggest details and the smallest. Then, when the next storm comes, we would be able to trust His goodness in the midst of it, even when we can't see clearly what He is doing, because He has always shown up in the past. And that we could live, walking into each of our tomorrows, without anxiety and worry because we know by experience just how Good He is.

When I wrote that blog post, in early summer of 2012, life looked so different than it does now. I had faced betrayal on the deepest level in my marriage, but we were recovering and God was at work. I remember telling Chris and Sarah over dinner that I was just barely pregnant with Morrow. (Seriously, I could never keep it a secret for the whole first trimester). And, I was on the verge of stepping into an honesty and vulnerability in my life that would forever change my friendships and my relationship with Jesus.

Since then, Morrow Isaiah has joined our family. My kids have grown about a million feet and a hundred clothes sizes. Jameson talks now, all the time. God is choosing to redeem my heartache in a different way than I would have chosen. The next storm, has indeed come my way. We've gone through a divorce. My kids are facing heartache and suffering that I never would have chosen for them. The pain has been real and deep.

Yet, in it all, God has shown up. Over and over. Binding up our broken hearts. Already giving me glimpses of the ashes being turned into beauty. Already giving me gladness instead of mourning and a reason to praise instead of a spirit of despair. He has been the comfort in my grieving. He has shown up in His people who have surrounded my kids and me with their love and presence.

So, I need to:

(1) go back and read the things I have written;

and (2) write and record more.

When I went back to re-read that three year old blog post I found myself in tears and laughing. Laughing because three years later, I find myself starting to re-record the same dang lessons. My blog is like a continual repeat of the same song.  And, I was crying because God knew I needed to re-read that. He knew I needed this words: "[i]n memory, the shape of God's yesterday-heart emerges and assures of God's now-heart and reassures of his sure beat tomorrow." He is saying to me what those lyrics to Oceans say: I haven't failed you yet and I won't start now. Going back and re-visiting those memorials just gives me the assurance that this promise is true!

I need to continue building memorials to the things that He is doing because they are breathtaking. God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites and within three days they were freaking out about what they didn't have. I am such a freaking Israelite.  God has parted the Red Sea for me in more ways than I can even begin to keep track of in my forgetful mind. Yet, I get anxious and freaked out and doubt that this time He will come through.

So for the millionth time, I'm re-starting to write. Is that allowed? Can I re-start for the millionth time? Well, I hope so. Because I am.