People of Courage

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Fear. It can steal our sleep, our health, keep us in jobs that we’re not suited for or unhappy in, make us stagnant, and it can bring discord into a family. It can keep us from enjoying the life that God has given us. As Jason Gray, one of my favorite musicians, sings, “There’s no thief like fear.” Do you know that you don’t have to live in fear? I didn’t.

Growing up, and throughout nearly all of my life, fear was a constant companion. It was all I had ever known…and because it was such a part of me, I not only didn’t see it for what it was, but I didn’t know that I could be free from it.

There was nothing traumatic in my life responsible for the fear I felt, as far as I’ve been able to determine. I wish it were that way for everyone that experiences it. It began as shyness, but it grew to eventually impact every area of my life.

Then one day, while sitting in church, the Lord showed me something. God’s Word says over and over not to fear. I read somewhere that the Bible says not to fear 365 times, once for each day of the year. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that we’re commanded to not fear. So…if it’s a command, then that means we have a choice, right? We can choose to fear, or we can choose not to fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Every day we are bombarded with messages designed to strike fear in our hearts. Through social media, television, radio, the newspaper, and magazines in the check-out stand, our minds are inundated with these messages. The enemy of our souls uses fear to bring disunity to our homes, our cities, and our country. But there is a better way.

We have a Bible filled with God’s promises. What helps me is refusing to be afraid and choosing to speak those promises out loud. “Your Word says that You will never leave me nor forsake me, so I will not be afraid.” Or “Your Word says that I am clothed with the armor of God, so I will not be afraid.” You get the picture. I have noticed that the more I proclaim God’s Word aloud, the less often fear even tries to take over. I no longer walk in fear, and you don’t have to, either. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear, and the more we spend time in the presence of God, the more we are filled with His love for others, the more fear loses its hold.

One of the main characters in the movie Courageous said, “Where are you men of courage?” But I also have to ask, where are you women of courage? Although the movie was about fathers accepting their God-given roles and responsibilities, women have vital roles to play as well. When we live in fear, and make our decisions based on fear, everything suffers, and our priorities get mixed up. Not only are our spiritual lives affected, but our families suffer and sometimes fall apart, and other things in our lives unravel in the process.

It is never too late to break the fear cycle. We can begin today, knowing that the Lord is faithful, that He came to heal the brokenhearted, that He can take all of our past mistakes and work everything together for good – He can turn ugliness into something beautiful. My favorite words in the song Courageous are, “The only way we’ll ever stand is on our knees with lifted hands.” Amen. May we come to Jesus and let go of our fear, and instead, find forgiveness, renewal, strength, restoration and peace. May He make us people of courage.

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Kokabee and Hurricane Matthew

“But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me.”  Psalm 66:19-20

One day, a few months ago, I was sitting at my desk when I suddenly felt overcome with exhaustion. Now, I’m no energizer bunny, but this was very unusual for me. I must have closed my eyes, because the next thing I knew, I dreamed of a good friend of mine, a woman with a missionary heart, standing before me. She said, “Kokabee, true love.” That was it. I was jolted awake, wondering who or what a kokabee was.

It didn’t take long to discover that Omid Kokabee was an Iranian physicist who was in jail for refusing to cooperate with officials in a nuclear military program in Iran. He had studied in the United States and Spain, and traveled home to visit. He was taken into custody when attempting to return to the U.S.

Kokabee, true love. He was unwilling to use his knowledge to harm others. Instead, he was willing to give up his freedom, give up his life, for people who may never know of, much less thank him for, his sacrifice. Sounds kind of like Jesus, doesn’t it?

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:12-14

I don’t know if he’s a believer, but we have been praying for his salvation and his freedom. If reports are to be believed, I read today that he was scheduled to be released on parole last August.

This week, Hurricane Matthew arrived off the coast of Florida, where I live. Many people were praying that this storm would not come ashore. My church alone had three prayer meetings, and I know that other churches were praying up and down the coast and in other states as well.

The projected path, within the cone, wobbled to and fro on either side of Lake Okeechobee.  I noticed that every time we had a prayer meeting, the blue cone would move to the east, but before long, it would drift back over to the west. It really seemed that it was a battle, all up and down the coast, like a great arm wrestling match.

I really believe that it was the prayers of the saints, and the Lord’s answer to those prayers, that kept the storm off land. Christians with shields raised in battle lined the coast. Then I came across these verses, in a way that only the Lord could arrange:

“Let them give glory to the Lord and declare His praise in the coastlands. The Lord will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies.” Isaiah 42:12-13

All glory, honor and praise to You, God, for delivering Your people! The Lord is good, and kind, and merciful, even when He doesn’t answer the way that we hope.

It reminded me of Kokabee. He was imprisoned for refusing to use his knowledge to harm people, many of whom would never know or thank him for his sacrifice. And how many are there here in Florida and along the east coast who are going about their business, never realizing that the prayers of the saints, and God’s answer to those prayers, have kept them safe?

We are called to stand in the gap, to be repairers of the breach. If we don’t do it, who will? We were put here for such a time as this. Let us not grow weak, let us not cease to pray for our country to turn to Him. Let us pray at all times, praying for those in authority, praying for racial unity, praying for unity within the church. Let us not grow weary in well doing. And above all, let us love well. They will know that we are His disciples when we have love for one another. Can we truly love if we’re not even willing to pray? May the love of God shine brightly in and through us as we serve one another in love.

Where is the Abundant Life?

“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”  Psalm 16:11

I grew up believing that God made me and loved me, and that Jesus died for my sins. That was all I knew about God. I didn’t talk to Him, and figured He was too busy running the world to talk to me.

At the age of 20, on Christmas Eve, I learned that I had been deceived and betrayed by someone I loved, and was so devastated that I really didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to hurt. I didn’t see a purpose for my life. I told God that I didn’t want to live, but that I wouldn’t do anything to end my life, and said that if He wanted to do something with me, that was fine, but I didn’t want to go on.

About that time, my mother began visiting a Christian bookstore. Since I loved to read, she offered to buy me a book or two if I wanted to tag along. I began reading Christian novels, and saw something within those pages that I had never imagined, much less seen. People talked to God and Jesus like they were people! Real flesh & bone people! I was stunned to think that people could actually talk to them like they were good friends.

At that time, I was living alone in an apartment. I had an old television that had been given to me, but it rarely worked. It hadn’t even turned on for quite some time. A day or two before Easter, I turned the television on, and surprisingly, it turned on immediately. I watched in horror at the scene before me. The man portraying Jesus was on the ground, being nailed to a cross. He cried out in pain, which was hard enough to watch, but then he looked at the camera, and appeared to be looking right at me. I was shaken! The next thing I knew, I found myself face down on the floor, crying, knowing that the real Jesus had died on the cross, suffering tremendous pain, for MY sins! He was there because of me! I asked Him to forgive me for the things I had done, and I gave Him my life. That was many, many years ago, and I have not been the same since.

Fast forward to about five years ago. I had recently returned to the United States from Mongolia with two of my children, where we had been living for a year on an overseas work assignment. I was in the middle of a divorce. Like before, I was devastated. For months I read the Bible, cried, prayed, cried, questioned, cried, and then I came across this verse:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:7-10

I cried out to the Lord, “Where is the abundant life? Your Word says that You came to give us abundant life! This sure doesn’t look like abundant life to me!”

That was a turning point for me. My eyes were opened to many things that I hadn’t seen before. I realized that I had put God in a box, and He didn’t fit! I began to look at God’s Word through different eyes. Instead of seeing verses through the eyes of tradition, I began seeing them as they were written. I began to understand that the written words were promises for us, that they were true, and that they could be believed because God always keeps His promises. I knew that they could change my life.

He took away my pain, confusion, and fear, and He filled me with joy, peace, and love. He is so good, so loving, and more at work in us and around us than I ever knew. He has given me abundant life, and the great news is that it’s not just for me, it’s for anyone who asks. Jesus came to give us LIFE!

During the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, I found myself coming across that verse in John daily. If I opened a book, it was there. If I went on Facebook, it was there. If I turned on the radio or television, it was there. Every single day. And every time I came across it, I thought about the abundant life that had been mine for the last few years. Real abundant life, living life to the full.

Then, about a week before Christmas, thieves broke into our home. Two of my children and I had been out to dinner with my sister and her family, who were visiting us all the way from Nigeria. Afterwards, we went to a hospital to celebrate the birth of a precious baby girl, born into a wonderful family who has been on the same spiritual journey I and my family have been on. How wonderful to have companionship on this journey!

We returned to find that our home had been broken into. We lost jewelry, electronics, and even some of the Christmas presents that were wrapped under the tree. In the midst of it, though, I was not afraid. I didn’t feel violated, as many people do after a break-in. I wasn’t even really angry.  Disappointed, sure, for the gifts that I was not able to replace, and for the hearts and minds of the kids that broke into our home. But looking back, I believe the Lord was not only warning me, but preparing me by reminding me of the abundant life that He has given me. Yes, the thief does come to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have something that can never be stolen, never be taken away from us. We have the promise of living forever with God, our creator and the lover of our souls, both here and when our time on earth is done, because Jesus made it possible.

Are you experiencing abundant life? If not, do you want to? If so, ask Him for it. Jesus came to give you life, and give it to you abundantly, and He promises that if you seek Him, you’ll find Him.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13

A Sacrifice

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”  Psalm 147:11

There are many great, deep theological truths packed into the story of the Lord asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac – about how Isaac was offered up as a sacrifice as a preview of what was to come when God’s Son, Jesus, would be offered up as the final sacrifice for all mankind. About how the ram was caught in the thicket, a substitute for Isaac, just as Jesus became our substitute when He died on the cross as payment for our sins. About how Abraham remembered and believed God’s promise to him – that he would have a son and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, even if it required the Lord raising Isaac from the dead. About how the ram’s horns were caught in a thicket, and sinless, compassionate Jesus wore a thorny crown about His head as He became the sacrificial Lamb of God. There are many more, the depths of which humanity can only try to fully comprehend. What is on my mind most right now, though, is Abraham as a father.

Abraham was told many years before Isaac was born that he would have a son, and although he believed God, 25 years had passed between the promise and the fulfillment. Abraham finally had the son he had longed for, the son of the Promise. Now he was being asked to give him up? His only son?

For the last few days, I’ve come across this particular verse several times:  He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Genesis 22:13

Is there something you’re holding onto with all your might?  You’re afraid to let go, afraid it will slip out of your grasp, and out of your life?  May I encourage you to hold it up as an offering, palms up, no holding back?  I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to keep this thing, this person, whatever it is, but I can tell you that there is freedom in giving it up.

Sometimes the Lord will let you keep it. When I separated from my husband, our youngest child was seven. At that time, it wasn’t clear whether he would stay with his father or with me. It was already a very difficult time, and the thought of being away from my son, too, was almost more than I could bear. Finally, it came to the point where I had to just put the situation in the Lord’s hands and give my son to God – palms up, no holding back. I had to trust that God would do whatever was best for him, even if the best wasn’t me. The Lord was gracious, and allowed him to live with me for five years.

Sometimes the Lord will not let you keep it. Recently, I had to do that again. It was a little easier this time, because my relationship with the Lord is stronger than it was then, but it was still difficult, and I still cried a lot – not because I didn’t trust the Lord, but because I knew I would miss him so much. Sometimes I still cry, but the Lord is gracious now, too, even though my son is living in another country with his father. He is learning things that he would not have learned here with me, and experiencing the joy of being with his dad.

Whatever His answer, God is good, and He is faithful, and He comforts us and provides for us. He is our exceedingly great reward. He heals our hearts, and fills our lives with good things. He honors our sacrifices and fills the empty spaces. His ways are not our ways, but His ways are good.

Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.” Genesis 22:14