Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Freedom From Fear


Fear can drive people to do some crazy things.  Fear spread across a group of people can cause panic and irrational behavior.  Fear can cause imaginations to run wild and then lead to one jumping to conclusions.  Fear untamed leads to worry and anxiety which can lead to profound health concerns.

Ever deal with this?

I do.  In fact, fear is probably my strongest weakness.  It frustrates me at times because according to scripture:

"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe." (Proverbs 29:25)

"The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6)

The LORD has grown me very much in this area, and I am oh so thankful!  I remember being very, very young and being afraid of someone breaking into my house or kidnapping me, etc.  I don't really remember how it began, but I remember being held captive by that fear many times.  I had parents who were taking great care of me, and thankfully I was never kidnapped or burgularized, but as I got older my fears changed and grew to bigger monsters.

I feared what someone may think of me.  I feared making mistakes.  I feared tragedy.  I feared nightmares.  I feared a lot.

Then I met Jesus and began to learn to trust Him with my fears.  This is a process that takes time and devotion.  I have had to let go of my own understanding and trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5,6).  Although He has set me free from fear, there is a daily decision needed to walk in freedom from fear and live that way instead of living in fear, anxiety, and worry.

About five or six years ago the Lord brought me to a whole new level of healing here.  I was praying with a friend, and the Lord showed me myself as a little girl who was afraid.  He showed me that because of Him I didn't have to fear any longer.  I couldn't explain it, but after that moment I felt a real sense of relief.  I had been set free in a way I had not yet experienced before. 

Shortly after that I found this verse while in a group Bible study:

"Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Hebrews 2:14,15)

I realized then that though I knew I would be in Heaven when I died, because I had accepted the free gift of salvation when I asked Jesus to be my Savior, I had still been afraid of many things including death.  Why should the Christian fear death when He has promised us life and freedom from the fear of death?  This was another breakthrough for me.

So with all of these truths and breakthroughs, I recognize times when I am gripped by fear as spiritual warfare.  I already have the victory through my Lord, thankfully.
When I am afraid I have to ask myself a few questions.

1. Who am I trusting in?  God?  Myself?  Someone else?
2. Is there a lie I am believing?  What truth must replace that lie?
3. How much time have I spent reading and studying the Bible and in prayer lately?

I can find the reasons why I fear in the answers to these questions every single time.  When I am afraid I am inevitably not trusting in the LORD, believing some lie, and have not been spending as much time with Him lately.  Also, for me, I deal with fear more often when I stay up later at night.  For some reason, my imaginiation runs more wild at night.  Perhaps it is the stillness and the quiet.  Perhaps it is the darkness.  Perhaps it is just the fact that there is more actual darkness going on at night.

So what's a girl to do?

"When I am afraid, I will trust in you." (Psalm 56:3)

The word for trust here in Hebrew is batach.  This kind of trust is security, boldness, and confidence in the one being trusted.  This trust is the opposite of the fear I am speaking of.  When I find myself being fearful, I am not confident, bold, or feeling secure!  In fact, when I am walking in fear, I feel very insecure, very anxious, and very distracted by that fear.

"You who fear Him, trust in the LORD-He is their help and shield." (Psalm 115:11)

"I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" (Psalm 91:2)

"The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." (Proverbs 18:10)

The "fear" in Psalm 115:11 speaks of reverance.  In other words, if I revere the LORD, then I must trust Him.  The "righteous" in Proverbs 18:10 are those who have been made righteous because of Christ.  All of those who have called upon Him as their Savior have been made righteous because of His death and resurrection.  Therefore the Christian can run to the LORD and rest in Him. 

Although real moments of fear are going to come - we are human, after all - is there any reason that a Christian should ever be living in fear?  I can understand someone who has not decided to follow Jesus fearing because he does not yet have access to that strong tower.  He should be afraid!  He must first decide to follow Jesus and trust Him for salvation in order to be free from fear (free from the power of sin and death, as well!).

But Christian...why do you walk in fear?

As Christians, now more than ever, we need to know the Truth.  We need to spend the time studying His Word and spending time with Him in prayer.  I know, you may be thinking, "I don't have time," or "I don't know how," or "I don't really want to."  Doing what is necessary is not always easy and does not usually come naturally.  It takes intentionality to make this happen. 

You have to make the time.  Use your time wisely.  Make this a priority.

If you don't know how, seek help.  Tell the Lord you don't know how, and ask Him to teach you.  He will.  Just be real.  A great resource to start out with Bible study is How to Study Your Bible: The Lasting Rewards of the Inductive Method by Kay Arthur.  Also a great way to get started with prayer is going to the book of Psalms and praying some of the words there.  Many people get intimidated with prayer.  Perhaps they think it has to involve fancy words that sound very "spiritual," but it is simply a conversation.  Prayer involves speaking and listening.  Kay Arthur also has two great devotionals (for both men and women) to help you get started: one on prayer and one on Bible study.

Knowing the truth is so important because the truth sets us free! 

"To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8:31,32)

Freedom from fear comes by choosing to follow Jesus and walking in the truth.

The desire to continue to study more and spend more time in prayer comes as you continue to do it.  Sometimes the desire wanes and needs refreshing, but the Bible is SO exciting!  Equally exciting is spending time praying, thanking God, listening for His direction, praying for others, and actually hearing from Him!  The Christian life is one of great excitement, peace, and contentment when we are plugged into the source and spending time hanging out in His strong tower. 

For me, when I am diligent in this, fear is forgotten.  By His grace, I can live confidently, bold, secure because I trust Him to take care of every little detail.  He is in control, and I can rest in knowing that He is God, and I am not.

I also must be careful to protect my mind, knowing that this is a weakness at times for me.  This is one reason I am very careful with what movies or shows I watch, what books I read, and what conversations I engage in with others.  You have to know yourself enough to know what your limits are.  Don't be embarrassed to decline a certain movie that others want to watch because you know it would cause you to struggle with fear later.  Be honest with others and with yourself.  Ask the LORD to help you.

Be encouraged today.  Fear not.  Instead trust in Him.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jehovah Raah: The LORD is My Shepherd Part 2

Please first read Jehovah Raah: The LORD is My Shepherd Part 1 and then come back for this one...

In John 10:1-16 and 27-30, Jesus states:

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd."

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

I am always amazed when I hear someone say that they don't believe Jesus is God who came to save us from our sins, but they do believe that he was a prophet and a good teacher.  How can this be?  If He claimed He was God and was not, He wouldn't be a good teacher at all and no where near a prophet.  He would be a crazy liar!

No, Jesus is as He said He is.  The LORD is my Shepherd, and I cannot even snatch myself from His hand!  Praise God!  He is the Good Shepherd that each one of us so desperately needs.  It may not seem desperate to some, but it is indeed desperate.  A sheep without a shepherd is in a very dangerous predicament.

"Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

Know anyone who is distressed and dispirited?

1. great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble.
2. a state of extreme necessity or misfortune.

discouraged; dejected; disheartened; gloomy.

The Greek word for dispirited sheds even more light:

1. to set down (with the suggestion of haste and want of care)

2. to throw to the ground, prostrate

In Phillip Keller's book, "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23," he mentions times when sheep from neighboring pastures who were not taken care of well would try to break out from their fields in order to get to his pastures where there was nice grass and sheep who were well taken care of.  They were ready to throw themselves before him because they were desperate for care.

There are times in my life where I have forgotten this.

One time in particular was during a mission trip in Indonesia.  Interestingly enough, we (the group of ladies with whom I was traveling) were actually studying this topic of the LORD being our Shepherd, and one of the ladies even made up a little devotional for us about it.  She also bought each one of us a little lamb as a reminder. 

Well we unexpectedly ended up riding in a van, in the rain, in the dark, in the mountains to a destination where we would be staying overnight.  Church was the next morning, and we had a three hour drive that night.  We were scared.  It was scary.  We each had moments of panic, but we all tried to focus on the LORD.  I even thought at one point, "Well this could be how I go, and what a way to do it."  Thankfully I had music to listen to that the Lord used to help me stay calm.

Long story short, after hours of this, and one poor lady even getting car-sick, we made it to a hotel and pleaded with the Indonesian friends we were with to let us stay there.  The next day it would be daylight and not raining.  That would be better!

When we finally pulled up to the church where we would be connecting with other Christian women, what did we see?  A mural similar to this one reminding us of who our Shepherd was.  We had sort of forgotten.

This is not to say that bad things never happen to His sheep.  However, when those valleys do come, He is the one to walk us through them.  He is the one who takes care of us.  He takes amazingly suberb care of us because He loves us more than any other shepherd ever could.  He brings good out of it, and He is glorified. 

He was so faithful to help us keep going.  What a blessing we would have missed!

If you haven't yet trusted in Jesus as your Good Shepherd, your Savior, I pray you will...right away!

For further study on this, there are so many passages in the Bible about sheep.  Here are some books I also highly recommend:
Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg

Thank You, my Faithful Shepherd, for loving me like You do!  I am so undeserving and so thankful!  I love You!

Jehovah Raah: The LORD is My Shepherd Part 1

This is my absolute favorite name of God.  I just love what it means to be His sheep and have Him as my shepherd.  Of course, I didn't really understand what that meant for a long time.  After all, I actually don't know any real-live shepherds, and I have only spent time with sheep a few times and for a few minutes at a time.  Through my study of what it means to acknowledge the Lord as my Shepherd and what it means to be His sheep, I have grown to love this imagery and now have a great affection for all things sheep.

Sheep are the most frequently mentioned animal in the Bible, believe it or not, and for good reason.  The more one gets to know sheep, the more one can realize how much we humans relate to them.  The bottom line is this: Sheep need not just a shepherd, but a very good one.  Without a good shepherd they eventually die, often because of not-so-smart decisions, and often slowly and painfully.  They are not the brightest of animals on their own and can be very impulsive.  Also fear can cause devastation to a flock because they all panic and often get into more trouble as a result.

Sheep need food, freedom from pests, freedom from friction (conflict), and freedom from fear in order to be able to lie down and rest peacefully.  It is completely up to the shepherd to see that these needs be met in order for his flock to thrive.  This takes constant and consistent attention and care on the shepherd's part.  The sheep trust him and look to him for help.  When they are warned of danger, they group together to help protect each other and trust that their good shepherd is on his way.

The good shepherd helps them to have everything they need. They can lie down and rest because they are satisfied.  They are lead by waters that are good for drinking because their shepherd cares for them. 

He helps them when they fall over - which can very quickly be deadly for a sheep because they literally cannot pick themselves up again.  He restores them to health and watches to be ready to help them again. 

He leads them down good paths, and he is known as a good shepherd as a result of his care for his sheep.  When there is trouble, he protects them and guides them with his rod and staff - which also can be used as a weapon to defeat predators. 

He goes ahead of his flock to prepare the fields where they will graze, making sure no deadly weeds or parasites are there.  He pours an oil mixutre on their heads to protect them from irritating and deadly parasites and pests that can devastate a sheep and even the whole flock - sheep can be so irritated by a pest that they have been known to throw themselves off of a cliff just to get relief not realizing that it also will lead to their death.

And when the year comes to a close, the sheep are lead back home to rest with their shepherd until the next journey begins.

Does all of this sound familiar at all?

Psalm 23: A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

David, King of Israel, was a shepherd.  He fully understood these words and how they related to his Jehovah Raah.  This psalm literally covers a year in the life of a shepherd and his flock!  David recognized that the LORD was his Good Shepherd, and that He could be trusted completely.

We need a good shepherd!  According to Isaiah 53:6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."  

It is so easy for us to go astray because we often seek our own way instead of relying on our Good Shepherd, Jehovah Raah, to lead us.  Just like a stubborn sheep, we all at times step off of the good path He has laid for us in order to chase after that bright green patch of grass that looks so good.  We think we can just quickly go after it.  What harm can that bring?  We question His path.  Why this path when there is a perfectly good path (at least to our eyes) over there?  Sometimes we don't get into much trouble.  The shepherd calls us back and we come.  Other times a straying sheep can get into so much trouble that the shepherd actually has to break her legs, so she won't run away into more trouble and bring her back over his shoulders safely.  He then restores her to health and mends her wounds hoping she has learned her lesson.

This passage in Isaiah 53 speaks of the Messiah - the One who would die for our sins in order to bring salvation to those who would accept Him as their Savior, their Messiah.  He not only was willing to forever take care of His sheep as their Good Shepherd, but He also temporarily became a sheep Himself in order to pay the penalty for our sins.  "...he was led like a lamb to the slaughter...he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:7,12).

This is what Jesus did.

To be continued in Jehovah Raah: The LORD is My Shepherd Part 2

Monday, June 6, 2011

Impressive and Healthy Doesn't Have to Be Difficult!

Several years ago we started making {almost} everything from scratch in our household as a way to save money (tons!) and eat a more healthy and more balanced diet.  The rewards have been well worth any effort and besides that we think food tastes a whole lot better this way.

I am always surprised by how many people think it is far too difficult and time consuming to actually make a meal from scratch.  First of all, let's define from scratch.

From scratch: An idiom that means from the very beginning or starting point and from nothing (nothing already done for you)

While it is probably not likely that we are always going to start a meal from nothing already done for us...for example, I don't have the equipment to ground my own flour, I don't catch the fish we eat, and in the example I will get to of a meal idea I didn't shred my own coconut.  However, the point is, you can make a meal that is healthy, affordable, and even impressive all from simple and natural ingredients.

I am not saying that it is morally wrong to use a box to make a meal or baked good.  I am just saying that you don't have to do it, and if you don't you will probably save a lot of money and make something that is much healthier.  This is because there is a lot of junk available today in boxes.  These items often have terrible ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, and when you break down the price you can be spending a lot more money for the convenience.

We started with one change at a time in our home until we had made a whole lot of changes that had become a part of our lifestyle.  I don't often make food that is fancy or has a lot of steps in the recipes.  You don't have to do that, either.  There are so many ways to make this kind of cooking and eating fit into your life and your family.

Here is one example.  We had one pound of salmon in the freezer that I bought fresh and froze immediately because it was on sale a couple of weeks ago.  I also had some white potatoes, about five little purple potatoes, a small bag of snow peas, a leftover portion of an onion, and four cloves of garlic that I wanted to use up before I forgot about it and accidentally let it go bad in my fridge (letting food rot doesn't save you money, of course).  So I thought about it for a few minutes.  Hmmm, what can I do this all of this?

So I chopped up all of the mentioned veggies and put them in a baking dish.  I seasoned them with sea salt, black pepper, and Mrs Dash after coating them with extra virgin olive oil and stirring it all around in the pan.  I didn't worry about chopping the pieces up perfectly or taking too much time on it.  The goal was to wash and cut it and get it in the pan to bake.

Then I preheated the oven 425 degrees.

Taking the salmon that I had thawed in the fridge overnight, I placed the two pieces on a baking sheet (without greasing the pan).  I put a good bit of black pepper on the top of the fish, and then I put a little bit of sea salt.  Then I had a really exciting idea because we love coconut here.  How can I put coconut on this salmon without having to go through the steps of breading it or making a mixture of some sort?  So I took the unsweetened, organic coconut shreds I had leftover in the freezer and generously sprinkled and spread them on the tops of the two fillets.  Then I took our bottle of raw, unfiltered, local honey - a.k.a. the good stuff - and cautiously sqeezed thin lines of honey all over the top of it.  I just wanted to lightly cover the top with honey to help the coconut not burn and to flavor the fish more.

The oven was finally ready!

I put both the pan of veggies and the baking sheet of fish in the oven side by side for 10 minutes, making sure that the fish was flaky and cooked in the middle.  After letting it cool we had such a yummy dinner that we ate all the fish and managed to save only a little bit of veggies for leftovers.  It was so tasty and even looked like a meal you would order at a restaurant. 

And it only cost me around $12 for almost four portions of fish and about six portions of veggies!  That is really good for a salmon dinner!

This one is going to show up again at our house.  Impressive and healthy doesn't have to be difficult!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Eating His Words

I love the many practical analogies in the Bible.  I also love to eat, so the analogies that are about food I particularly find appealing. 

I have been thinking a lot the last couple of weeks about what separates a carnal Christian - one who belongs to Christ and wants to follow Him but remains mostly unchanged by Him, and a growing and vibrant Christian - one who belongs to Christ and follows Him with a wholehearted devotion that is not only evident to those around him but also leads to a more fulfilled life.  I keep coming back to this:  The Bible.  Our lack of maturity or gain of maturity simply rides on studying, knowing, and applying God's Word to our lives daily

Thankfully I am able to eat food everyday, several times a day in fact.  The food is available to me, and I am physically capable of eating it.  I need food to not only survive, but also to thrive.  Food is not only a need for me, though.  I also want food and rather enjoy a variety of it throughout each day.  I also feed my children and make sure my husband also is well-fed.

Why of earth then do I neglect to feast upon His Word sometimes???

Do I think I can just handle life on my own?  I don't need the food I gain from knowing His Word???

Do I not realize that by studying, learning, knowing, and applying His Word daily that I am actually getting to know my Savior better and letting Him mold me and shape me into a more mature, more real, more relevant, and more fulfilled Christian???

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." (Psalm 34:8)

Once we truly taste the goodness of the LORD it is difficult for anything else to satisfy us fully.  Sure, there are times when we make attempts to be satisfied elsewhere, but eventually He brings us back and reminds us of what we were missing.

"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:2,3)

Think about how a baby craves milk.  He must have it to live!  After receiving that milk he is so satisfied.  This milk helps Him grow.

"Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:13,14)

Milk is wonderful in the beginning.  This is the foundation, the first truths we learn when we first become a follower of Christ.  Then we must grow and mature by not only seeking the milk, the basics, but moving on to seeking more truth, the meat of God's Word.  I love the phrase "constant use" in the passage.

Constant: –adjective
1. not changing or varying; uniform; regular; invariable
2. continuing without pause or letup; unceasing
3. regularly recurrent; continual; persistent
Am I continuing without pause or letup in my study of the Word of God, the Bible?  Am I not just studying it but also persistently using the truths found within it to discern good from evil?

Maybe you feel overwhelmed when you look at your Bible (if you even have one, yet).  The first step is to ask the LORD to help you.  There are many great helps for studying the Bible, but I recommend one to start with: "How to Study Your Bible; The Lasting Rewards of the Inductive Method," by Kay Arthur.  You can find it on Amazon for under $2 plus shipping.  This method of study has helped me personally in my quest for knowing God more through knowing His Word more and looking to Him to help me apply His truth in my life, for His glory.

This is yet another area of my life that takes intentionality.  Some days I don't feel like sitting down a reading my Bible.  Other days I cannot wait to do so!  Usually I find that the days I don't feel like it follow many days that I have not really taken much time with my Savior to grow and be filled by Him.  When I get in a funk like that, it may take a couple of days to feel like I want to be constant again.  However, relying only on feelings is generally not a good idea.  I know I need to do it, so I must.  Then I can say like Jeremiah:

"When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty." (Jeremiah 15:16)

Are you feasting on His words today?  Are you eating His words lately letting them change you for the better because of His goodness and love for you?  Or are you still hungry and thirsty because you have not yet found the source of true satisfaction?

"Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)

Thank you, Jesus.