Fear Is a Liar

Fear has been eating away at me today, or rather it started in on me last night.

Someone close to me is in the midst of upheaval, and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse instead of better.

But the truth is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m borrowing trouble, or as the fictional character Newt Scamander said, “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

That’s what fear — unhealthy fear — does. I suffer while fearing and worrying, and then I suffer the event. What? So the event might not be bad enough that I have to bring additional suffering to the table with me?!

I’ve been listening to worship music off and on all day to get myself out of the funk that I’m in, and I came upon the video for “Fear Is a Liar” by Zach Williams. (Now don’t cut and run just because you read the next paragraph! Hear me out just a little bit longer.)

Even after all the years I’ve been in a Christian family and a Christian myself, sometimes I forget where I’m supposed to turn when things go sideways. Today this video meant so much to me because it pulled me back from the brink of panic. Yeah, I go there. The brink and I have an unfortunately close relationship. I’d like to say that as a believer in the teachings of Christ that I always know how to handle things, but I would be lying. There are just days when I’m overwhelmed by fear and worry, and I have to muddle about trying to find solid ground again.

This afternoon, I’ve muddled my way right back to solid ground through the words of so many blessed worship musicians. I may have to do it all again tomorrow, but that’s okay. At least there’s solid ground upon which to stand.

I don’t know what kind of fear or worry you may be dealing with today, and I don’t care what your belief system is. I pray for you peace and solid ground. Be blessed!

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My Muddle Reducing Playlist for today included some fine artists. May they do for you what they did for me.

  • “Fear Is a Liar” – Zach Williams
  • “Not Today” – Hillsong
  • “Sing It Now” – Reba McEntire
  • “Ain’t No Grave” – Molly Skaggs and Bethel Music
  • “There Was Jesus” – Zach Williams and Dolly Parton
  • “Holy Water” – We the Kingdom and Tasha Cobbs Leonard
  • “No Longer Slaves” – Zach Williams (Live at Harding Prison)
  • “Who Am I” – NEEDTOBREATHE
  • “Into the Sea (It’s Gonna Be Ok)” – Tasha Layton
  • “All My Hope” – Tauren Wells and David Crowder
  • “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner” – Crowder with Tedashii
  • “Who You Say I Am” – Hillsong Worship
  • “Cages” – We the Kingdom
  • “Almost Home” – MercyMe
  • “Rescue” – Lauren Daigle
  • “The Blessing” – Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes
  • “Burn the Ships” – for King & Country
  • “Hundred Miles” – Crowder

Felt It in My Soul

Sunday morning as I listened to an online sermon by Annie Downs at Crosspoint church in Nashville, I felt touched in my soul by a story that she told. A virtual stranger who had stayed in Annie’s home for a mutual friend’s wedding had told Annie that she was “too much.” The stranger felt that it was Annie’s personality that kept her single. Annie pointed out that she could change her physical appearance, but she couldn’t change her “Annie-ness” — who she truly was.

Personally, I was beside myself when I heard this story because I’ve been there. I’ve been the person slain by someone else’s cruel words, and I’ve been so hurt and close to tears that I couldn’t even respond. I’ve bled emotionally at many a word that some unthinking person truly thought was helpful.

However, as Annie pointed out, I’ve been the person who sliced into someone else with a “well-meaning” sharp tongue. I’ve given as good — or bad — as I’ve taken. It would be completely wrong for me to deny it, and Annie didn’t deny it either.

That being said, what I loved the most was her talk point: Our words have power — good or bad. How are we using our power?

I felt deep in my soul the cut that she must have felt as she told her story, but I really started asking myself, ‘How am I using my words?’ Am I being fair to everyone I meet, or do I misapply the power of my words more than I care to admit?

We have all been Annie under attack by a stranger who thinks she knows what’s best, but let’s be honest with ourselves. We’ve all been the stranger who has attacked. We’ve all seen a situation where we immediately snapped to a judgment about a person in a predicament, and we’ve all had an opinion about what she did wrong and how she could fix it. We’ve all spoken in ignorance.

What Annie is trying to encourage us to do is to think twice about the power and influence of our words. We don’t know how long lasting that influence may be so let’s leave people on a positive note so that, when they say they felt something in their soul, it’s something positive — a sunbeam, a butterfly, or a song. Let us never leave a scar on someone else’s soul.

Enjoy Annie’s full talk here.

We’re All Prodigal Somewhere

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:7, NKJV

One evening I was listening to worship music to wash away the stress of the week, and as I walked, I listened to a couple of songs by Crowder: “Come As You Are” and “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner.” As I walked, I began to think on the themes of those two songs. Roughly put, we’re all off target in some way, and God is the place we can run because He’s already seen it all anyway. In spite of everything, He still loves us.

I began to think about the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, and I had a realization. We’re each the prodigal at one time or another, and sometimes we don’t even realize that we are or have been. A genuine prodigal usually knows that they are such, but I think there are two or three other kinds of prodigal. I think there’s the prodigal that knows they’re either the prodigal or the self-righteous brother, but they aren’t sure which. Then there’s the prodigal who just doesn’t know they’re a prodigal or who won’t (can’t?) admit that they are a prodigal. Maybe there is even a fourth kind of prodigal or what I like to call the partial prodigal where they are prodigal in some individual aspect of belief, but they haven’t given up on faith in God. Truthfully, I think we all fall in that category all the time.

The second kind of prodigal – the undecided prodigal – at least recognizes that they are in a situation. They know they are a prodigal or a self-righteous son, but I think the minute they figure out which one they are that they become a prodigal no matter which they realize they are. (Say what? You may be asking right now.) Well, I think it’s like this. You either realize you’re a prodigal or you become a prodigal the minute you realize you are being the self-righteous son. Either situation is running from the teaching of Christ.

The third prodigal – the prideful prodigal – has gone rogue somewhere, but they just can’t admit it. According to them, they are perfect, fine, great, wonderful, and truthfully, seething with rage on the inside. These are the people who have always done things the way everyone else has wanted them done, but they’ve never actually done what they should do. They’re so far off the map that they don’t even realize it. I can firmly say this because I KNOW that I’ve been this kind of prodigal. I have been sitting in the pew every Sunday, attending Sunday School, paying my tithes, shaking hands (although don’t do that right now!), singing all the hymns, and doing all the “holy things”, but the truth is that I was just going through the motions. In reality, I wasn’t present spiritually. In reality, I was running as fast and as furiously in the opposite direction as possible. I was in rebellion, and I couldn’t even recognize it.

The fourth prodigal – the partial prodigal – represents each of us at any given moment. It’s that thing that we don’t want to relinquish even though God is asking for it. It’s that significant other that is bad for us, and we know it. We just don’t want to let him/her go. It’s that good paying job that gives us money and status, but God wants us to do something else so we pretend we didn’t hear the call. It’s that image we use social media to maintain when in reality we’re a five-alarm disaster on the inside. Any of these can still believe in God and their faith, but they are just struggling to give up that ONE thing in the moment that God is asking them to sacrifice. The sacrifice might help, but they aren’t ready for the change it will bring so they tenaciously hold on hoping God will change His mind.

There is great irony in the second and third kinds of prodigal. I think it means that the first kind of prodigal – the one everyone automatically thinks of – is actually closer to God in many ways than the other two. The absolute prodigal knows and recognizes they are prodigal. The point is that they know exactly where they stand with God. They know and accept that they are on the outside looking in. The undecided prodigal is a step further back because they haven’t quite figured out where they stand. Are they prodigal or self-righteous brother? They are on shaky ground because they don’t know which they are so they can’t seek to right the ship. The prideful prodigal is at least two steps away because they can’t admit they’re a prodigal. They’re so busy maintaining the image that they won’t acknowledge the flaw in their system so they keep on trudging in misery.

The truth is that we are all prodigal if not completely then at least in part. We all have that time, moment, or situation where we are running as far and as fast as we possibly can away from what is good. It’s because of those moments that I remember we are all equal in God’s eyes. No righteous person is anymore God’s child than an absolute prodigal. No absolute, undecided, prideful, or partial  prodigal is any less loved. What matters is what we do in the prodigal moment. Do we return to the safety of God, or do we keep running?

I’d like to say that I don’t run from God anymore after all the years I’ve believed, but that would be an outright lie that I’m not going to utter. I run from God all the time. I’ve been the absolute prodigal sitting on the sidelines and questioning God’s existence. I’ve been the undecided prodigal and the self-righteous brother. I’ve been the prideful prodigal refusing to admit that I’m running from God all while I’m sitting pretty at church like all the other saints. Mostly I understand that I am the partial prodigal. I have areas of my life I just don’t want God to enter because I’ll be embarrassed by what He sees even though deep down I know He’s already seen it. I can’t hide my prodigal self from God, but I’m so thankful He loves me in spite of my rebellion no matter how many times I come crawling back and begging for forgiveness. I’m thankful His arms are always open to receive me.

In Opposition? : Humility and Boldness

1 Peter 5:6-7 (HCSB)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.

Hebrews 4:16

Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

 

Just prior to everything that’s currently happening and telecommuting began, I was sitting at my work desk and caught sight of the two Bible passages above written in faded ink and taped to one of my monitors. They are two of my favorite and most encouraging passages in the Scriptures, and it suddenly struck me that they seem to encourage what appear to be opposite traits – humility and boldness. I sat staring at them and thinking, “Can you be both humble and bold?”

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines humility as “freedom from pride or arrogance; the quality or state of being humble.” Further, it explains that “both [humility] and humble have their origin in the Latin word humilis, meaning “low.”” Suggested synonyms include meekness, lowliness, and down-to-earthness. I particularly like that last one. None of this is popular in today’s culture – the “let me step over your still warm body so I can succeed where you failed” culture.

Then I looked up the definition of boldness, and it was defined as “fearless before danger” and “showing or requiring a fearless daring spirit.” Some of the synonyms are confident, intrepid, adventurous, and gutsy. Intrepid was appealing to me as it is defined as “characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance.” This is a prized character trait in today’s “you only live once” or “do what makes you happy” culture.

How do we make the two fit together and still uphold the teaching to put others before self? How do we practice humility before God and yet approach Him boldly?

The last couple of years, I’ve been trying to remind myself of the true power of God. I’ve been trying to stop boxing God in to my narrow-minded view of the world. I’ve been knocking the walls down to see just what God can do instead of keeping God in a small, tight space. This requires humility on my part – the acknowledgement that God can do things that I can’t even begin to imagine – the acknowledgement that I am just one tiny piece in the workings of this life – and that’s okay. All I can do right now is take care of the space where I am, but it’s something in God’s plan even if it’s not what I had expected.

In the midst of writing this blog, I was listening to an older sermon from Crosspoint Church in Nashville. Pastor Kevin Queen did a sermon in 2019 on “Sacrificial Living,” and I was thankful for the God-wink.

He said some things that got me to thinking:

“To deny yourself is to die to self every single day…to die to what we want…to die to our selfish agenda…to love God and serve others. […]

If you want to follow Jesus, you have to attend about a thousand funerals a day, and they’re all funerals for what you want. […]

…we find that the blessing and the benefit of the life of following Jesus comes when we make the sacrifices, and it’s counterintuitive to the way of this world. But it’s the way of the kingdom. […]

Romans 12:3 (HCSB)

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

Romans 12:16 (HCSB)

Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Christlikeness begins and ends in humility.”

How does this leave any room for boldness?

I’ve been muddling this concept over in my head for a few weeks almost afraid to complete the blog, but then I picked up my pen (yes, the old-fashioned pen and paper) and started to write again.

Even as I wrote about humility, I had to ask myself why a humble person can’t be bold, fearless, daring, intrepid, resolute, courageous, confident, or enduring? Why can’t a humble person exercise fortitude? The answer came to me that there’s no reason why a humble person can’t be those things. I went to BibleGateway.com and searched for references on boldness and confidence, and there are no shortage of them in the Bible just as there are no shortage of references to humility and meekness.

Here is what I realized. Humility is about keeping our perspective on God in proper alignment. God comes first, and all our actions should stem from that. Consequently, we can move forward with boldness, confidence, fearlessness, resolution, courage, endurance, and fortitude. It is all about how we frame God in the process. He always needs to be at the center of our humility, or we won’t be truly practicing Christlike behavior. The same applies to our boldness. If we move forward in boldness or confidence without maintaining God as our center, we’re doing it for our own selfish reasons. In other words, we’re just living like everyone else.

So what does humble boldness look like? It looks like Ruth believing in her new faith and God as she went boldly to ask Boaz to protect her and her mother-in-law. It looks like Esther humbly accepting that she may be executed for boldly asking the king to save her people. It looks like Daniel humbly and boldly praying to God and entering (and exiting) the lions’ den. It looks like Rosa Parks, tired from a long humble day at work, boldly deciding she wasn’t going to give way in the face of racism. It looks like the boss of a small business who cares about his/her employees in a pandemic and boldly decides to keep paying them even when he/she doesn’t know from where the money will come.

Humble boldness is keeping your eye on the right ball even when several are being thrown in the air at once. It’s knowing when to say yes and when to say no, when to accept and when to walk away, when to stop and when to keep going. Keeping my faith in God at the center of my being points my compass in the right direction. Sometimes it takes a while for me to get where I’m going, but I always get there in the proper time.

Let the Light Shine

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
~Harry Dixon Loes 

Last year, my pastor started a project – named “Project Light”– at our small country church to encourage us to bring things every month that could be donated somewhere in need. Each month we were encouraged to bring a different item, and those items included everything from shampoo and soap to socks and reading glasses. I still remember the look of surprise on the face of the cashier at a store when I rolled up with a full shopping cart of items that April. I was three months behind, and I wanted to make up for lost time.

I’m not telling this to pat myself on the back. It’s just that it was exciting for me to be able to afford to buy a cart full of things for someone else. You see, I had just started a new full-time job after having been a part-time worker for two years. While I had definitely learned how to live on a shoestring budget, I had been unable to buy much for other people over those two years. I went through that store grabbing all the things that we had chosen for the first few months of the year. I was excited about this project because, while I was still working up to having time to volunteer, I could at least help provide supplies where they were needed.

I wanted to inspire myself for the project so I grabbed a journal that a friend had given me two years prior for Christmas. This was one of those journals with a quote printed on the cover and individual Bible verses pre-printed at the bottom of each page. I opened it to the first page to begin recording Bible verses on light, and I was surprised to find that the verse printed at the bottom of the first page was Proverbs 4:18 (KJV): “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” I was pleasantly surprised, and I went ahead with my original plan to record inspiring verses on light. I turned the page and kept writing and then looked down at the bottom of the second page, and lo and behold, there was another pre-printed verse on light! Isaiah 60:1 (KJV): “Arise, shine; for they light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”

By this time, I was beginning to feel the occurrence of a “God-wink.” I don’t really believe in coincidences, but I do believe in the term coined by SQuire Rushnell called “God-winks.” In my definition, these are positive moments of God-influenced events that are like puzzle pieces falling into place. (As a side note, I recommend reading Rushnell’s books where he describes some of these moments in more detail. The one that inspired me was When God Winks at You.)

Being a person who loves the written word, these events really inspire me when God uses words unexpectedly to minister to my needs. At that moment, I was seeking inspiration for the project at church, and God used a two-year old journal to push it along. That unexpected but delightful moment helped keep my enthusiasm up the whole year for the project, and I was so pleased when our pastor, our youth leader, and our youth traveled to deliver all of our donated items.

The following Sunday, all five of them shared their perspective on the mission. Our pastor chose a church in our state that operated a food bank in a small town with a serious drug problem. The community had declined with the local industry, and the church had seen the negative effects as well. They were (and are) in the process of learning the “new normal” for their congregation that no longer consists of the cream of the town’s residents. Instead, they are finding that God has sent them an entirely different congregation to minister to by way of a hot meal and the food bank. Our small mission group each came back with a different observation.

Our pastor shared how she had doubted the whole day before the trip as to whether she had chosen the right church to help. She felt that she had prayed and chosen the right place, but she said, when they arrived at the nice church that was so much larger than our own, that she began to doubt that she had understood God correctly. However, once the true circumstances began to emerge, she knew that they were exactly where they needed to be. The nice building was a relic of the previous (wealthier) members that no longer attended. The now wealthier church across the street used the now empty parking spaces for their own overflow parking. (I couldn’t help but think what a pity it was that the churches couldn’t cross denominational lines to operate a food bank together.) Our little church hadn’t gathered a huge amount of stuff, but it was enough to help expand the food bank for that day. Apparently, the reading glasses were a huge hit because they had never been offered as an item before. I sat there thinking about the prescription glasses I wear every day and how much I pay for them and prescription sunglasses to wear while outdoors. The people entering the food bank were excited about inexpensive reading glasses, and it humbled me in that moment to realize how blessed I was and how a simple pair of reading glasses could be an inexpressible blessing to someone else.

All three of our youth reflected on how the people who entered the food bank were so appreciative to them. They were hugged and thanked as they oversaw the distribution of items. They were humbled themselves by the joy that simple things like shampoo, toilet paper, and canned food items could bring to people in such desperate need. In their own ways, all three of them said that the trip made them realize just how blessed their own lives were.

Our youth leader shared two stories in particular that have stayed with me. First, she told of a woman working the kitchen who had lost part of her leg which meant she used a wheelchair. In our youth leader’s words, this woman worked circles around everyone, and most beautifully, she knew the names of every person who entered the church for a hot meal that day. Second, (and this story squeezed my heart) she told of a tall, slender teenage boy who came in to eat. They were serving hot dogs, chili, chips, shredded cheese and other toppings, dessert, and drinks. This young man came through the line once and got one of everything including an entire bowl of shredded cheese. After a little while, he came back and asked if he could have a second serving, and he proceeded to eat the exact same meal all over again. Then he came back for a third round, but this time he decided to skip the chips. Working on a college campus, I often look out at the students, and I wonder how often some of them go without food just so they can pay for school. Her story about this young man suddenly made me so grateful for the life my parents worked so hard to provide. I never missed a meal as a teenager or college student unless I just forgot to eat. I was humbled again.

My two takeaways from this were the following: 1) None of the things were given to the people with a dose of religion to pound them over the head. There were no tracts or Bibles forced upon anyone. The hot meal and all the items from the food bank were simply delivered with love which, from my own perspective, is the greatest sermon one can give. 2) I know from personal experience how easy it is to become jaded when giving to other people only to find that they squandered what was given – be that money, goods, or even well-meant advice. However, we don’t give our time, money, or goods to see the end result the way we believe it should be. We give because it’s what we are called to do for others. What is done with it on the other end is often out of our control, but the intent is what we can control.

I can control whether I let my light shine brightly or dimly even if I can’t control how others receive or use that light. This day-mission trip for our youth inspired them and our church, and it reminded me one more time that even the smallest things can have the longest lasting influence.

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Here are some more of the verses that I used to inspire myself to be a light — especially on those days that I don’t feel like shining at all — and in parentheses are the pre-printed verses from my journal because some of them seemed to go hand-in-hand with the verses that I wrote in the journal. I prefer to use Bible Gateway to look up verses but whatever you prefer to use is awesome.

Isaiah 60:1-3 (Proverbs 4:18)
Matthew 5: 14-16 (Isaiah 60:1)
John 8:12
II Corinthians 4:6
Isaiah 42:6 (Proverbs 18:10)
Philippians 2:14-15
Psalm 27:1
Psalm 43:3
Psalm 97:11 (Matthew 5:8)
Psalm 112:4
Ecclesiastes 11:7 (I Peter 3:12)
Micah 7:8
Luke 8:16
Luke 11:33-36 (Psalm 128:1-2)
Acts 13:47
Romans 13:12
Ephesians 5:8
I Thessalonians 5:5 (Psalm 145:9)
I Peter 2:9 (Philippians 1:6)

My personal favorite is Psalm 119:105 (KJV): “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

 

What I’m reading right now: Winter by Marissa Meyer, The Power of Kindness (10th Anniversary edition) by Piero Ferrucci, Simon Peter by Adam Hamilton, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: Expanded Edition by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Listening to right now: The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer (I love listening to Richard Armitage narrate basically ANYTHING!), Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Books of the Bible I’m currently reading/studying: Isaiah and I Samuel