Relying on God, Not Self: Living Brave Series

MEME - Relying on God Not Self - Blog

(Suggested Reading – Judges 7:1-25)

In 2014 my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant. I was recovering from my first of two shoulder surgeries and working with doctors to manage the constant high-level pain caused by my upper thoracic back injury.

Still, I immediately agreed when my mom asked me to serve as her caregiver. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that reality hit.

How was I going to care for her when I was right in the middle of my own healing journey?

My husband comforted and encouraged me, as I sobbed and prayed. What were You thinking, Lord?

A few months after my second shoulder surgery, an injection in my back, and a new medicinal plan that would hopefully help me manage my pain while I cared for my mom, I flew to Seattle.

I suffered constant pain every day. And every single day, the Lord showed up and carried me through.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any harder, I tore muscles in my hip and pelvis.

The injuries in my shoulders and upper back flared up as I hobbled on crutches for weeks, cooking, cleaning our small living space, and monitoring my mom’s meds (and mine).

I learned how to depend on God the most on those days when I had no strength of my own.

My faith deepened as I watched my mom trusting God through her healing journey, too. She would read daily devotions from Jesus Calling, pray for others, and rely on the Lord daily.

During our time in Seattle, my mom and I were like our own little army against the world.

We took every step by faith, depending on God completely, surrendering to Him totally, and trusting Him implicitly.

To this day, I’m in awe at how the Lord brought us through the ordeal, how He blessed us with joy, peace, and strength we couldn’t have mustered up on our own.

I think back on those difficult months often, with my mom now at peace with Jesus and me heading into the sixth year of my healing journey.

I consider how Gideon must have felt when the Lord asked him to face an army with a whittled down troop of soldiers.

God had already guaranteed Gideon the victory and proved He would be with him through the battle. He remained patient when Gideon struggled with fear and doubt. He reminded Gideon that his own strength was irrelevant.

With pared down troops, Gideon would have no choice but to put his trust in God’s power, not his own abilities or the strength of his support system (Judges 7:1-6).

“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped [the water] I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’” (v. 7, emphasis mine)

God didn’t snatch the soldiers away.

Gideon had to choose to embrace his weakness, to let go of his safety net, before he could experience the power of God.

 In compassion, the Lord still offered Gideon comforting reassurance (v. 10-11).

God knew his servant would experience moments when doubt or fear muscled out every ounce of courage he had managed to muster up.

So, He allowed Gideon to hear testimonies of what others saw in him as the Lord worked in and through his life (vv. 13-14). Though Gideon couldn’t see past his own weaknesses, those around him witnessed God’s power surging through his obedience.

The “mighty warrior” God had called forth rose up to the challenge before him, using the simple tools he had been given (vv. 15-16). There was no doubt the Lord alone defeated the enemy Gideon had once feared (vv. 17-22).

Gideon’s courageous faith, made stronger through his moments of doubt and discouragement, emboldened those who witnessed the small army’s victory against the Midianites (vv. 23-25).

We’ll all face obstacles, enemies, or battles that seem impossible to overcome and make us feel inadequate.

When we feel too weak, too unprepared, too afraid to walk the path the Lord has paved for us, we can guarantee victory by lifting our arms in complete surrender to God.

We’re strongest when we let go of the false sense of security wrapped in self-reliance and embrace our weaknesses, admit our absolute need for God, and rely on Him for everything.

Like Gideon, we may have a few set-backs that will require God’s patient and loving pep-talks.

Because Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, there’s no way our skirmishes with fear and doubt can determine the measure of our faith.

The Lord knows when we’re weary, insecure, and in desperate need of His affirming love.

His sufficient grace is more than enough to help us when we’re tempted to give God our own brand of fleece-tests (Judges 6:36-40) to determine His proven faithfulness.

As we rely on God, not self, we can embrace our weakness and experience the peace of His constant presence as we walk in the power of His Spirit.

Lord, thanks for being patient when we waver and for being our strength when we’re weak. Please help us show that we accept the power You’ve placed in us by relying on You in all circumstances. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Carrying Shields of Faith, Not Fear: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 23

(Suggested Reading – Judges: 33-40)

For years after receiving Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I functioned with fearful instead of fearless faith. I prayed for protection and provision with inklings of doubts that raised my levels of anxiety instead of peace. Rather than proclaiming who God is with confidence, I pleaded for affirmation and begged God to give me favor and grant my wishes.

Once I stopped treating God like my personal vending machine of pleasure, I began to understand the interdependence of believers and the trustworthiness of God’s sovereignty.

I’m so glad the Lord’s answers to my prayers aren’t dependent on my limited vision or fear-filled desperation for personal comfort.

In His sovereignty, God knows what I’m going through. He also knows what’s around the corner and what I’ll need to get through an upcoming crisis or over an unsavory obstacle. I don’t.

In His goodness, God cares about my needs . . . more than my list of wants. He grieves when I suffer and desires what’s best for me, even when what’s best requires a personal cost physically, emotionally, or mentally. I, on the other hand, usually don’t mind settling for the more feel-good roads of least resistance.

It took a while, and I sometimes still forget, that what’s best for me doesn’t always mean what I want or what will make my current situation easier.

Even though God is all good, my journey in this world on this side of eternity will often include too much heartache, too much waiting, too much struggling. But the Lord always remains in the know and in control.

When God nudges me forward or beckons me to follow, I can trust Him as Promise-Keeper and walk with courageous faith . . . even when I’m fearful.

As believers, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. He is with us, empowering us, guiding, encouraging, comforting us. He speaks the truth of His Holy Word, assuring us of His proven faithfulness.

So, why do we sometimes hesitate when the Lord leads us to do something we’ve always dreamed of doing or something that requires us to depend on His strength because we know we can’t do anything in our own strength?

When we know God fights our battles and provides our strength, promising to be with us wherever He leads us, why do we sometimes shy away from risking failure or facing fierce opposition?

Because, sadly, our vision is often blurred by our human frailty and we act as if the measure of our faith depends on us.

Fear demands absolute proof of provision and protection. Spirit-empowered faith moves forward on the promised assurance of who God is and what He’s declared to be true‒the Bible.

Yet, in His goodness, the Lord knows we’re feeble. He’s persistently patient with us.

With awe-inspiring kindness, God respects our need to process our emotions and work through the layers of fear, insecurity, and self-sufficiency that prevent us from walking in the power of the Spirit.

Scripture affirms “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon” (Judges 6:34). This “mighty warrior” had all he needed to follow God with bold confidence.

Still, doused in unbelief, Gideon tested God’s honor by questioning His abilities: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised . . .” (v. 36).

If? Gideon’s two-lettered badge of faithlessness basically implied God was a liar.

The Lord had promised, but Gideon didn’t trust His integrity.

In love, God tolerated Gideon’s self-focused insecurities and his vain attempts to surpass faith with fleece-filled litmus tests (v. 37-40).

While it may be tempting to judge Gideon and criticize his limp faith-muscles, it’s more than likely that we struggle with the same desires for God to give us confirmation before we step out in faith.

Unfortunately, it often feels safer to stand in reluctance, waiting in the pit of disobedience, unwilling to walk in the power we’ve been given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because, like Gideon, we settle for a perspective distorted by our own imperfections and limitations.

God has given us all we need to live brave.

As we shift our thoughts to God’s reliability, we can risk rejection and face the possibility of failure.

 By embracing the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, we can abolish fruitless fears and carry a shield of faith molded with the surety of God’s inerrant truth and unchanging character.

Mighty King of Kings and loving Father, please help us accept the power You’ve given us to trust You, rely on You, and follow You with fearless faith. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Following God When the Stakes Feel Too High: Living Brave Series

MEME - We Can't Lose God - Pic by Begona Maier(Suggested Reading: Judges 6:12-32)

When I first became a Christian, I discovered relationships and my personal comfort were my biggest idols. My prayers were fear-filled plea bargains. I’ll follow You, trust You, obey You, Lord, but please, please, please have mercy. I can’t bear the thought of losing (fill in the blank).

As I think back on my whining-prayers, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the cost of discipleship. I still placed God below and behind the things and people of this world. Even my emotions became idols. I didn’t want to face fear, grief, sickness, pain, or worry, so I coveted easy routes.

My selfish cries for favor were poor attempts to sidestep pain and lessen the risk of loss.

My pleas for comfort were sad tactics intended to help me avoid giving up what I wanted, what I valued, what I thought I deserved, what I worked hard for, what I called my own and did not want to risk losing.

But as I continued to draw nearer to my Savior, He helped me understand that following Him wouldn’t always lead me down easy streets.

God gives us all we need to live in fearless faith, walk in freedom, embrace His grace, and follow Him . . . no matter how high the stakes.

None of the wonderful things God does in and through our hard days would be possible if we refuse to risk those high stakes, if we deny the Lord because we think we have too much to lose.

When God invites us to trust Him, He assures us we’ll face trials and troubles, as well as plenty of persecution and opposition. He also promises He’ll be powerful, patient, and present, as He empowers us to live for Him.

But when we believe God, when we’re ready to live brave we’ll face the idols that keep us focused on what we have to lose instead of all God has given us, all He promised us.

When the Lord asked Gideon to destroy his father’s idols, He wasn’t just asking him to clean house. Gideon had to rid his life of the fears and insecurities he’d placed on the throne of his heart, before he could follow God with courageous faith.

When Gideon doubted and complained about the rough road his people had endured, God didn’t make excuses or apologize. He told Gideon to go with the strength he had, the strength God had given him, and to remember God Himself was sending him so there was no need to fear or fret (Judges 6:14).

When Gideon focused on his own feebleness, the Lord didn’t console him or give him a list of all he’d accomplished in the past. He simply assured Gideon that He would be with him (v. 15-16).

When Gideon demanded proof of God’s faithfulness (v. 17), depended on his own works by offering a sacrifice God never asked him to give (vv. 18-19), the Lord met Gideon right where he was (v. 20-21).

Gideon trembled in the face of God’s might (vv. 22-23), and God’s comfort resulted in Gideon’s outpouring of worship in which he emphasized the peace of God’s presence (v. 24).

Peace, not just power.

Bowed before the Lord, Gideon was ready for the biggest step in his pursuit of honoring God.

But even in his obedience, the “mighty warrior” still displayed weakness when he chose to act under the cloak of darkness (vv. 25-27).

Gideon’s not the last of God’s children to slip into the safety net of life as an undercover, lukewarm, conditional, or compromising believer.

Still, despite Gideon’s weak-spots and mess-ups, it seems God used his obedience to influence his father. Joash became Gideon’s supporter. He stood up for his son against the hostile crowd seeking revenge for the destruction of Baal’s alter, declaring false gods have no power (v. 32).

And after having seen the One True God in action, Gideon stood against the enemy armies (vv. 33-35).

When we’re following the Lord, we’ll often face problems that feel insurmountable or adversaries that seem unbeatable. It’s tempting to cling to idols, which can include our works, talents, abilities, skills, or connections, as if they were more dependable than the God who gave them to us.

Insecurities and fear may even become idols that we place before God, idols that tempt us to want to make God prove His faithfulness, to assure us that we won’t have to risk defeat, pain, loss, or anything we might value more than pleasing Him.

As lovers of God, we’ll come to realize the great cost of discipleship includes risking great loss and facing high stakes. But we don’t need not be afraid because our unchanging God loves us unconditionally.

God remains faithful, good, and trustworthy as He assures us that no stakes are too high because we’ll never lose Him.

Lord, thanks for assuring us that we don’t need to depend on our own strengths or fear the high stakes of following You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Begonia Maier.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Believing God When It’s Easier to Doubt: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 12Suggested Reading: Judges 6:1-16

In January 2014, I asked God to help me be braver. I longed to follow Him, even when He asked me to try new things, hard things, and, yes, even scary things.

That commitment led me down unexpected, exciting, and excruciating detours and delays on the path God paved and used to challenge me, sculpt me, and deepen my faith.

I had decided to pray for guidance daily and say “yes” whenever the Lord led me to serve. It wasn’t always easy discerning when it was God leading or other people insisting He’d put me on their heart so the task must be my responsibility.

As I continued seeking Him, drawing near to Him, and asking Him to show me “the next step” He wanted me to take, He increased my discernment and blessed me with the strength and courage I needed so that I could obey Him.

I had no idea saying “yes” to God would require me to say “no” to some good things, that following His lead might land me in some incredibly physically and emotionally difficult seasons or seemingly endless waiting periods.

Obedience to God often thrust me into painful in-your-face-moments that revealed how much I needed His life-transforming love to penetrate every aspect of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve discovered one thing I needed to do before I could serve the Lord as He intended.

I needed to believe God.

I needed to believe what He said about who He was, is, and always will be and who I am because of Him.

I needed to believe Him, especially when it felt easier to doubt.

As God helped me know Him, He helped me believe Him, which helped me to trust Him as He slowly, patiently, lovingly stripped away the doubts, fears, and insecurities that kept me from following Him with courage.

Focusing on my limitations, my lack of qualifications, my shortcomings, my uncertainties, and my past failings kept me from living for God.

How could I serve Him and fulfill the purpose of sharing Him with the gifts He’d given me, when my greatest naysayer and biggest adversary discouraged me and mocked me every time I looked in the mirror?

It seems obvious that Gideon fought his inner-critic, too. He seemed to have a hard time believing the LORD would consider him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:11).

But the angel of the LORD got close and personal with Gideon. He came alongside this ordinary steward who was doing ordinary tasks, using the gifts and fulfilling the purposes he’d already been given.

The divine messenger assured Gideon of God’s promise to be with His people. He labeled Gideon with a badge of strength, a role of persevering courage, pointing out the potential God had placed within him (v. 11).

Still, Gideon’s thoughts flipped back to the times when he didn’t get his way, when God didn’t meet his expectations, when his circumstances felt too hard, when life seemed uncomfortable, unfulfilling, and unjust (v. 13).

I don’t blame him. It often feels easier to keep our attention on the difficulty of the task at hand, the unfairness of our journey, the disappointments of our shattered expectations, and the ways we feel God let us down.

When we cast blame on God or others for the tough times in life, we can almost feel justified when we avoid trying, when we reason our way out of obeying, when we convince ourselves we can’t risk trusting the Lord again.

If Gideon’s “But Sir-speech” could prove God untrustworthy, maybe he could still end up looking like a good guy, a reasonable, wise, and safe guy. Or maybe he could just avoid being hurt, scared, disappointed, weary . . . or maybe he could avoid losing.

Who hasn’t wanted God to promise a risk-free road of obedience?

Fortunately, Gideon’s story assures us that the Lord understands our weaknesses.

The LORD turned to Gideon. Talk about an intimate vote of confidence.

“Go in the strength you have . . .” (v. 14)

Gideon didn’t need anything extra to accomplish what the LORD asked him to do, and neither do we.

“Am I not sending you?” (v. 14)

The LORD simply reminded Gideon that he was not alone or without purpose.

When God sends us down the pre-ordained path He planned for us, He remains with us, providing all we need to do all He entrusts to us as we follow Him, rely on Him, and surrender to Him every step of the way.

Yet, like Gideon, we can be tempted to turn our gaze to our limited resources and lack of status, listing the many reasons we aren’t qualified for the job (v. 15).

Of course, we’re not qualified! God doesn’t need us. He wants to use us to spread His truth and love to the ends of the earth, to serve Him by serving others, and to bring glory to His name by simply doing what He asks with what he provides.

We can go wherever God leads, in the strength we have with the gifts we have, because God is the one sending us.

When Gideon obsessed over his lacking, the LORD didn’t flatter him with words of affirmation to help him feel better about himself.

He simply confirmed He would be with Gideon and fight on Gideon’s behalf (v. 16).

God will help us surrender to Him, depend on Him, and trust Him to carry us over and through every obstacle He intends for us to face.

He doesn’t ask us to save the world, change the world, or carry the world on our shoulders.

He simply asks us to listen to Him, to look to Him, and to live for Him as we believe Him, even when it’s easier to doubt.

Lord, thanks for assuring us You’re with us. Please help us to be brave, as we seek You, obey You, and share You with every gift and every opportunity You’ve given us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Is God asking you to try something new, something hard, or something a little bit scary?

How can focusing on His faithfulness, His power, His grace, His goodness, and His constant presence make us brave, even when it’s easier to doubt?

I hope you’ll join me for my new blog series “Living Brave.” I look forward to drawing closer to God, trusting He’ll empower us to try those new things, hard things, and, yes, even those scary things as we serve Him and share Him with courageous faith.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Gina Latta Kelly.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First

MEME - Forgiveness Frees the ForgiverThe first day I had the courage to step into a church, I came prepared for battle. Masking fear with my angry scowl, I shifted in my seat, picked my cuticles, and hoped no one would notice the too-huge-to-hide scars of my sinfulness.

As I heard the Gospel preached, the Lord patiently peeled back layers of my self-imposed guilt and shame. He knew my tender heart desperately needed His grace.

Still, I struggled. How could Christ, in all His perfection, forgive me for all the bad things I’d done, for all the times I’d rejected Him, for all the ways I’d hurt Him and others?

With loving gentleness, the Lord drew me deeper into His story.

The Father painted a perfect picture of mercy . . . Christ’s arms stretched wide, heart overflowing with undying and unconditional love for the very ones who hated Him.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

At first, I viewed God’s lovingkindness as a reason for me to hang my head in disgrace and stamp my passport with endless guilt trips.

I had no idea how to process or accept the completeness of God’s forgiveness possible through His grace.

I longed to feel forgiven.

But as I continued to focus on myself, I tightened the chains that bound me to guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness.

How could I forgive others when I hadn’t truly received God’s offer of forgiveness?

The Lord extended undeserved mercy, but I insisted on the self-imposed penance which hindered me from intimacy with Christ and others.

It wasn’t until I gazed closely at the cross that I began to realize that me being undeserving was the reason Christ offered forgiveness as a gift.

I didn’t have to, and couldn’t possibly, deserve it, earn it, buy it, or work it off with good deeds.

After I rejoiced and eventually received His priceless treasure of salvation, I understood why I couldn’t hold others under condemnation.

If I didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness, how could I demand others to deserve my forgiveness?

If I didn’t earn God’s grace, how could I insist others earn my grace?

If God didn’t force me to pay off my debt of sin with good works, how could I expect others to keep trying to make up for hurting me or others?

If God didn’t condemn me, why did I think I needed to live under the weight of guilt and shame after I’d repented, turned away from my sin, confessed and received His forgiveness?

King David racked up a list of sins when his idleness thrust him into a downward spiral into a pit of sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4). Soon, the consequences of his sin couldn’t possibly be hidden (v. 5).

Instead of repenting, he dug a deeper ditch of deception that led to the murder of Bathsheba’s husband and the death of their son, who was conceived through their adultery (2 Samuel 11:6 to 12:19).

Though David begged God for mercy, he couldn’t choose the consequences of his sin, limit the reach of those consequences, or prevent more innocent people from suffering.

Yet, he didn’t blame God, either.

David couldn’t change the past or fix what he’d destroyed, but he could repent and worship the Lord he trusted.

The king did his best to comfort his grieving wife, refusing to nullify the power and extent of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness by clinging to guilt and shame (vv. 20-25).

David and Bathsheba accepted God’s forgiveness and forgave themselves, as well as one another (vv. 24-25).

“Forgiveness is worthless to us emotionally if we can’t forgive ourselves.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall, p. 52)

Once we’ve received God’s forgiveness personally, accepting the completeness of His gift, the Holy Spirit can empower us to live in peace and freedom from guilt and shame.

Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

If we forgive as we’ve been forgiven, we won’t feel the need to shame our offenders or demand they feel guilty.

Radical forgiveness requires us to release our desire for punishment, which Kendall refers to as evidence of our own fear (p. 52).

But when we’re prone to making others feel bad when they’ve failed or hurt us, it may be a sign that we’re living in a cage of self-imposed condemnation.

Once we’ve repented and embraced the freedom of God’s forgiveness, we can experience the elation of being guiltless and loved by Christ, the hope of being saved and renewed by grace. We can begin to see our smallness in light of God’s majesty.

Repentance is an expression of gratitude and love for God and all He is and always will be.

If the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe loves and forgives us, who are we to hold ourselves or others under the wrath of guilt and shame?

Lord, thank You for the gift of forgiveness and grace that You offer freely and generously. Thanks for empowering us to repent and receive Your forgiveness, and in turn forgive others. Help us trust You to remain good, just, merciful, and loving to all. May You be glorified and Your power magnified, as You help us truly receive Your grace and extend grace to others as an expression of gratefulness and love for You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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