Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reasons to Hope: Hope in Fear--Part 1

Reasons to Hope: Hope in Fear--Part 1: "My greatest enemy is fear, and I know that some fear comes directly from the enemy! But there is a good kind of fear that is sanctioned b..."

Hope in Fear--Part 1

My greatest enemy is fear, and I know that some fear comes directly from the enemy!  But there is a good kind of fear that is sanctioned by God and brings us closer to Him.  Psalm 111 is a Psalm of praise and acknowledgement of God's goodness, power and authority.  It begins with a promise to praise God in the "council of the upright and in the assembly".  It goes on to declare the awesome majesty of God and His works.
Then, the key words are in verse 10:  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.  To Him belongs eternal praise."  This verse deserves some study.  If the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, then what is the origin of foolishness?  Could it have something to do with fear as well?  In this post I am going to research the kind of fear that defeats us:

1.  Fear stemming from wickedness that leads to paranoia:  "The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."  Wherever sin exists and we allow it, we know it is there.  It causes fear, and it should, because we are in opposition to our God.  But that fear can result in paranoia.  A friend of mine from my youth talked badly about other people.  A lot of what she said was speculation, and that was obvious because she drew conclusions that she had no way of proving.  I tried not to let anything she said pass through my "filter" and into my opinion of other people, but somehow that type of thing is like a cancer eating its way into other people's reputations.  I had no choice but to confront my friend.  After that, it was as though she thought I was out to get her!  She berated me behind my back, as I had heard her berating others to me.  It was very upsetting and threatened to derail me.  There is an illustration I have used  when talking about gossip with my Bible classes.  "When you speak ill of another person it is like this:  (I would stand on a chair and rip up a piece of paper into tiny bits of confetti and then release them into the breeze.)  Now go pick up those bits and put that piece of paper back together again.  Oh, you can't?  Well, that is how hard it is to get back something bad you have said about another person.  It does damage forever."  Finally, I decided to choose peace over anxiety with that situation.  After all, had I ever sinned against someone with my tongue?  Have I ever been guilty of judging another?  I let my "friend's" sin serve as a painful reminder of my own.   The enemy quit pursuing me in that situation.

2.  The fear of evil.  This one is tough, because evil is out there.  Raising children in today's climate is enough to make cowards of us all, but the one thing children need is courageous parents.  I applaud the young parents I know.  They are raising their children with thoughtfulness, kindness, care and wisdom.  It is a good thing, because I can't even imagine the world my grandchildren will face.  But this I know, God will be in control.
Good will win in the end of every situation, especially if we give Him control.  In fact, God is the answer to the fear of evil.  Yes, evil happens in a world of free will, but we can all call out to God.  I pray daily for God's care for my children and all children.  Nothing can make me go into fierce Grandma warrior mode more than a big kid looming over my grandson.  But I won't always be with him, and neither will my son and daughter-in-law.  He must learn to prevail over evil, and even when he does, there will always be the "giants" out there.
He must, like David, learn to carry in his pocket the stones and slingshot of faith in the One who created the universe.  In Psalm 23:4, David, the shepherd boy turned king, wrote, "I will fear no evil, for You are with me....your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  Shepherds used the rod to beat off predators and the staff to guide the sheep.  O Lord, My God, please use your rod to beat off the predators in our world, and give us the wisdom to be guided by your staff, and we will live our lives in the comfort of Your protection.

3.  Fear of death.  I grew up surrounded by the pall of the fear of death.  In my grandfather's family, his brother was drowned in a river at a young age.  My grandparents, who raised children during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma in the Great Depression lost their only son to an infection when he was nine years old.  Their oldest daughter was crippled by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, my mother almost died from a ruptured appendix like her brother, and their youngest daughter died at childbirth.  My grandmother never got over the losses, and my own mother lived with the fear of losing someone she loved.  It colored my childhood.
I didn't learn to swim until I was twenty years old, and I love swimming!  My own mom still can't swim.  Could that stem from my grandfather's brother drowning?  I think so!  To this day if I call my mom and I'm at the gym or the store in the evening, she worries.  She's always saying to me, "Why don't you stay home?"
I understand.  No one goes out the door at my house without me saying to them, "Wear your seatbelt."  My neighbor scolded me for warning my son like 25 year old son...insisting I must have embarrassed him.  So I asked my son, and he said, "No, why would that embarrass me me, Mom?  I'll be 45 years old, and you will still say to me, 'Wear your seatbelt.'"  So, my sons have grown accustomed to my fear of their death.  But I don't need to fear their death or mine, because it is just a passageway into a life where death and tears do not exist.  The hope of Heaven takes away that fear.  Our fears should motivate us to share our faith with our children, as we admonish them to do things to protect their lives.  Let's leave behind that fear of death and fear only anything that would separate us from our eternity with God in Heaven.

4.  Fear that paralyzes us and makes us ineffective.  This is the fear that plagues me the most!  Some call it the fear of failure.  I think it is what is behind every unmet goal:   the fear of taking action!  I despise this fear in myself and others!  Looking at my youth, I seemed not to possess this fear, but the boldness I had then was my reaction to the fear around me.  I was determined to make All-State band on bass clarinet in Texas, so I practiced for hours every day before doing hours of homework.  We lived in a tiny little house on a farm in West Texas, and I'm pretty sure my mother and brother were grateful for the miles of wide open spaces where they could escape my endless etudes and scales.  It paid off.  I made first chair in All Region and Area bands, but I only always made 1st or 2nd alternate at state, because they only let 2 bass clarinets into All State band!  That meant one or two people had to die...or at least get really really sick...for me to get to go to Houston.  It never happened.  Every year my mother said, "You try too hard.  Don't try so hard and you won't get disappointed."  I hated that advice!  It spurred me on!  But what in the world has happened to that audacious young girl?  She is buried somewhere in all of the weight I am carrying around...and I don't just mean the pounds I am determined to lose.  I am talking about the weight of failure in my life!  I carry my failures around like trophies that I shine up and put on a shelf.  If I don't try so hard, I won't be disappointed.  I reject that fear!  This proverb is so full of wisdom that I am constantly considering it.   Proverbs 22:13 reads: "The sluggard says, 'There is a lion outside! or 'I will be murdered in the streets!'"  So slothfulness can begin with fear...or at least fear can be used as an excuse for lazy inaction!  Let us reject the fear that paralyzes us and get about conquering the lions in our path!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Reasons to Hope: Hope--We aren't Old Dogs and we can learn new tric...

Reasons to Hope: Hope--We aren't Old Dogs and we can learn new tric...: "Every year I eagerly open my new journal on Jan. 1, and I write down goals for the upcoming year. In September, I revisit those goals ..."

Hope--We aren't Old Dogs and we can learn new tricks!

Every year I eagerly open my new journal on Jan. 1, and I write down goals for the upcoming year.  In September, I revisit those goals and revive them....New Years revisited.  I go through the same ritual on my birthday.  Why do I do this?  Because I know this old dog can learn new tricks!  God has been working on me with mercy for over 56 years.  Some sins and bad habits, He has totally obliterated from my life, and other things are persistent.  I used to blame myself for the slowness of my stubborn refusal to change, but I'm beginning to see that God's timing is perfect.  Sins are easier than habits to change.  But, as the Bible says, "she" who knows what she should do and doesn't do it, sins."  So, my struggle is often merely trying to figure out how guilty I am?
What would parenting have looked like had my children had a slim mother who didn't focus on weight and food so much?  Then again, maybe I would have been a hungry, grouchy it was we had quite a bit of fun sometimes.  I do know we would have all been better off had I not had so much emotional angst over all of the things I didn't like about myself....because, and there's that word again, "I" focused too much on "me, myself and I".
     What if, since I have given my life to Christ, everything has been working out for my good and the good of those around me all of the time?  What if I couldn't have handled being thin...until now, of course.  :)  What if I couldn't have handled a writing career...until now, of course!  What if I would have gotten hit by a truck running the Marine Corps Marathon...huah!  So....what if....things are going just the way they are supposed to be going?
You know what?  That gives me hope.  I can set goals and actually accomplish them.  I'm 56 and my life is still in front of me.  The best can be yet to come, because now I can focus on what God has given me to do.  Don doesn't have to get bored with the same old wife everyday, because I am not the same old wife every day....he can only wish!  :)  Jesus came so that we could have life...and not only that....abundant life!  That doesn't mean a lot of means an excellent, full life...and then eternity!  That gives me great hope!  Now, it's time for those summer goals!  :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hope Through Endurance and Encouragement of the Scriptures Part 2

Continued from yesterdays post....on the subject of what the Bible is NOT:

3.  The Bible, with all of its scriptures on grace, is NOT a license to live a life of "whatever"!   If a single word could condemn a whole nation, then I believe the word of our day might be, "Whatever!"  It is the response that
wipes out the seriousness of all thoughtful discourse.  There is no longer any need to find truth in our culture, because truth is relative.  How lost we are as a nation, maybe even as a planet, because we have no anchor, no compass and no map, and we are raising a generation of  children who do not have the security of knowing truth.  That is a direct response to the generations before who were condemning in their religion, afraid to speak of grace, for fear the younger generation might run with it and give in to sin.  Sin, in those days, was accomplished behind closed doors in closed homes and whispered behind covered mouths.  It was known but not acknowledged, in many cases, hiding behind self-righteousness and pointed fingers.  But God did not, by sending His Son, give us permission to live a life of "Whatever!"  Romans 6:1 and following says:  "What shall we say then, shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?  Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."  That truth leads us to such a greater life than the life of "whatever"!  This means that, through God's Spirit, we can be raised to a higher and higher level of righteousness, peace and joy, ever increasing until we go home to our Heavenly home!  The other wonderful aspect of this truth is, we never arrive; therefore, we never have any right to judge another.  Our striving can cease....our anxiety about achieving and acquiring....we can rest in the knowledge that if we are in Christ, everything we can be and achieve is possible in Him.  He truly calls us to the abundant life!  Why would we settle for a life of "Whatever"?

What the Bible IS:
1.  Our wealth of wisdom and guidance:  Colossians 3:13 "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God."  Isn't that a beautiful picture?  The peace of Christ rules our hearts....we are all unified as members of one body.  We are thankful.  We are rich with the Word of God, and we teach from the wealth of that wisdom, singing together out of gratitude for the life that God has given us!  That is God's plan for His people.  Love, peace, wisdom, unity, peace....

2.  Alive and active, even today:  "...the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.  It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all of creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered  and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."  Hebrews 4:12.  At first glance that is a terrifying scripture, full of separation of joints and marrow, being laid bare before the eyes of God....but look deeper.  This is a scripture of hope, my friends!  The truth is God does see everything we do, say, think or feel, and He love us enough to allow His beloved Son to die for our sins.  We will be judged by the words of the Bible, and those of us who live our lives in the saving grace of God's merciful Son, will be spared the consequences of our sins.
He gives us the opportunity to discover what pleases Him and how to rise above the ugly reality of our sins in this life!  Who among us does not want to offer the best to our families, our husbands and wives, our children, our friends?  Who doesn't want to leave behind the frustrating habits and weaknesses that plague our lives?
The miraculous gift of the Bible is that it works on us.  How many times has a scripture come to mind, mid-sentence, when I have thought of just the right nasty, sarcastic comeback during an argument?  How many divorces could have been avoided by just the right response at a critical moment?  How many times, when I have been in tears over the harsh words of a loved one, have the comforting words come to my heart:  "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  Jesus' words comfort me in that situation, because of what He said, but more because of how He lived.  He did not mourn over what man said to Him....His course was sure, and He gave of Himself to the point of death...on a cross.

3.  The Bible is a story of the love of God for the people He created.  "For God so LOVED the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life."  God loved so He gave.  Yes, there is death in the world and always has been.  Death is the result of sin, but life is a gift of God....abundant life (John 10:10) " The enemy comes to kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and  have it to the full."  The sad thing, God gets blamed for the death, when it is the enemy who seeks to destroy.  God has given us a free life, and with that comes a free will.  The earth itself is under the power of the enemy.  He comes to kill and destroy.  God redeems us from the ashes of this world.
He freely gives us forgiveness and freedom and the hope of eternity with Him.  He also gives us the hope of knowing Him and who He is through His holy, active and living Word.  God is love.  God is hope.  In Him there is no darkness at all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hope Through Endurance and Encouragement of the Scriptures Part 1

"For everything that was written in the past, was written to teach us, so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope."  Romans 15:44

People who do not place their hope in the promises written in the Bible  often have good reasons.  Many of those reasons stem from bad experiences with Christians who misused the scriptures and used them to hurt, whether intentionally or not.  I have met and love several of these people.  I have misused the scriptures myself....unintentionally.  I have read or heard a clever quote, "God please save me from people with good intentions!"  lol!  I would like to amend this to say, "God please save me from my own good intentions!"  I would like to correct some misconceptions about the Scriptures:

What the Bible is NOT:

1.  It is not a book of rules and regulations.  Yes, there are laws, rules, commandments, admonitions, warnings and the like.  But if we could get to Heaven by a list of rules and regulations, Jesus would not have had to even come to Earth, let alone die.  The rules and regulations were established by our Creator to prove to us that we needed saving.  We could not match the holiness of our Creator.  He longs for fellowship with us, but cannot be in fellowship with the dark nature of our sin.  Paul talks about this in Romans:  "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.  What shall we say then,?  Is the law sin?  Certainly not!  Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.  For I would not have known what coveting was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet!'  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every covetous desire.  For apart from the law, sin is dead"  Romans 7:6-8
     Alcoholics and those who love them understand this whole principle.  A person with a drinking problem who is sober cannot be around those who are still drinking.  A husband who is sober cannot live with a wife who is drinking, as much as he longs to be with her.  There have to be rules, such as:  No drinking!  No alcohol in the house.  No going to bars.  Do those laws keep the wife from drinking?  No.  It is a relationship that will motivate her to change.  Ideally, a relationship with God will bring a lasting change, but even the relationship with her husband and family could motivate her to give up what enslaves her.
     We are all slaves to sin before we have the power of Jesus Christ and the love of God to motivate us to change.  We all find ourselves "doing what we do not want to do".  Only a changed heart and mind can resist old habits and sins.  Only love can motivate us to change.  We cannot preach the Bible only as a book of rules and regulations.  The Bible is a love story given to us by our loving Heavenly Father, who sets boundaries for us and gives us principles that allow us to love Him and be in relationship with Him.  It's not about being good, because none of us is good, in comparison to God....only Jesus.

2.  It is not a proof text to discredit other Christians.  We cannot even prove that the Bible is real.  There is a great deal of scientific and historic truth to prove the Bible, but we are called to live a life of Faith...not sight.
We are mishandling the Bible if we take scriptures out of context and use them to prove others do not have possession of the truth.  The Bible says in John that the world is not big enough to hold a book that would list all of the things Jesus said and did. The Pharisees were guilty of taking the heart out of the law.  God always wanted our hearts, not the adherence to the letter of the law.  Jesus said that the whole law and prophets could be summarized by these two commands:  Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."  If we Christians really did these things, instead of hitting people over the head with our Bibles and freezing them out with our judgmental stares, we wouldn't be able to build our churches fast enough to hold all of the people.  Jesus said, "The world will know my disciples by their love for one another.", not "The world will know my disciples by how they get every single detail right in their worship services."  Can you imagine first century Christians, climbing through the catacombs, worshiping in secret arguing over the order of worship or what songs that they sang?  Jesus, when he spoke to His disciples right before he was crucified in John 15, said this:   "If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  No greater love has any man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command."  We often make excuses for not loving one another or people we know who have not yet come to Christ.  No matter who it is, God's command is that we love and sacrifice!  I have heard people say, "I just don't like him/her."  That may be, but if we want to be friends with Jesus, we will find a way.

If we want to have hope of making a difference in this world, we need to take the words of Jesus in the scriptures and rightly incorporate them into our hearts.  There is a hope for this is in the love of God and Jesus.   Our responsibility as Christians is to love as Jesus every person.  Part Two next post

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reasons to Hope: Hope Eternal

Reasons to Hope: Hope Eternal: "'We know that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.' Romans 8:28 ..."

Hope Eternal

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose."  Romans 8:28


 What kind of craziness is it when a person who is dying of cancer eagerly looks forward to her passing, not out of morbidity, depression or a desire to be free from pain, but out of excitement to see her reward and to finally meet her Savior?  That was the disposition of my friend, Rhonda, who passed beyond hope into the reality of eternity in Heaven this past month!  Rhonda was my friend, only a few years older than I, and we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together.  I was with Rhonda in the beginning of her fight with cancer, and, like anyone would, she had many fears.  She feared the chemo treatments would take away her ability to feel the keys of the piano and thus rob her of the joy of making beautiful music.  She feared she would have to leave her beloved John and Courtney without being able to see her daughter married or have children, or grow old with John.  She feared both treatment and non-treatment, and she feared pain.  I was there with her.  I would have felt and feared all of the same things.  Rhonda fought the good fight with cancer for over four years!  She was brave and would readily admit that her courage came from her hope in Jesus Christ!  Cancer is an ugly disease spawned from the gates of Hell itself, and only our enemy the devil could devise such a torturous end for us.  But not even death could rob Rhonda of her hope, because her ultimate hope was not in this life but in the one to come.  She held on to an eternal hope that we share in a life with Christ, in a land where there are no tears and no suffering. 

Because of challenging events in my family, I was involved in my own struggle during the months leading to Rhonda's death on March 8, 2011 at 10 AM,  and I was not with her much in the end.  She didn't really need me then, because her family and friends who loved her longer than I  were by her side.  My role in Rhonda's struggle was to encourage her to fight the cancer and to have hope in her ability to beat it during the beginning and middle stages of her disease.  But what I admire about Rhonda's life was her ability to accept her death.  She had fears, but she did not give into them.  She had pain, but she fought to the end to serve her family.  She had hope that was not dimmed by the pain she suffered or the decline in her physical body.  Rhonda's hope was not in this world, and she calls us all to a better place.  Her friend Nancy was with Rhonda at the end, and she told me that not only was Rhonda not afraid to die, she was excited to be meeting her Savior face to face!  That is the hope that sustains us, whatever may come!  Thank You, God, for hope!