Fear Not

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?
The
 Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?
Psalm 27:1 NLT

I dropped the pans on the floor, and a loud scream rewarded me.

When my son was an infant, I worried that ear infections had affected his hearing. Rather than take him to the pediatrician, I decided to perform a home test. As my wife sat at the kitchen table with him cuddled in her arms, I dropped a heavy pan. His screams reassured us his hearing was okay.

Humans are born with two innate fears: falling and loud noises. I saw the second in my son; I witnessed the first in my grandson. After he started walking, I noticed he hesitated when approaching a ledge or when he got too close to the edge of a chair or the couch. I didn’t have to say, “Watch out, you’ll fall.” He naturally knew something was different.

I’m sure David was frightened by many things, but he had the sense to know he shouldn’t be. God saved him from lions, bears, enemies, and a jealous king. He gave light to his path and provided a protective wall.

I may have been born with only two fears, but I’ve accumulated many more: fear of those who can harm me physically, fear of financial failure, fear of relationship demise, fear of not being loved, fear of emotional abuse, fear of unemployment, fear of depleted retirement savings. Yet I’m reminded of what Paul told Timothy: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).

Fears seem to come naturally in my human experience, but if I’m only created with two, they shouldn’t. As with David, experience should teach me I can depend on God for salvation and protection. He has saved me from the greatest fear I could ever have: spending an eternity apart from Him to pay for my sins. Even if my life is taken by others, my soul is secure.

I can also depend on God to guard my daily steps. I may incur sicknesses—even life-threatening diseases—but He provides ultimate protection. Since the imperishable part of me is safe in His arms, I can live without fearing the other things that assault me during my life’s journey.

Don’t live with a spirit of fear, when God says, “Fear not.”

Prayer: Father, we thank You for allowing us to live a life free of fear.

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Sin Sick

No, it’s because of your wickedness! There’s no limit to your sins.
Job 22:5 NLT

“Have you anointed her and prayed for her healing?”

My wife suffers from various physical ailments—too many, in fact, for her young age. She has undergone numerous surgeries to remove tumors that could have turned deadly. Then came surgeries to repair hernias, remove a gallbladder, take off planter’s warts, and repair carpal tunnel. She still needs to have herniated disks in her back and neck repaired. To top off these issues, she suffers from fibromyalgia, degenerative arthritis, and neuropathy. Every trip to the doctor seems to entail another medicine or a further diagnosis.

Had Michelle lived in Job’s time, there would have been any number of good church folks who would be telling her she sinned. Though a righteous man—declared so by God and himself, Job was accused by several fair-weather friends of having sinned against God. Why else would he be afflicted by boils and have lost most of his family and possessions? Even his wife told him to curse God so he could die and get his miserable life over with.

Job maintained his innocence, and at the end of the story God corroborated his testimony. Sickness is the bane of living in a world tainted by sin. The world God originally created was free from sickness—and all of the other results of sin, and the new world He will create at the end of time will be identical.

While sickness came when sin entered the world, all sickness is not the result of individual sins. If this were true, my wife would be one of the greatest sinners in the world—when in fact she is quite saintly. God can and does use sickness as a means of disciplining or punishing those who revel in willful sin, but having a cold doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve committed a particular sin.

When my pastor friend asked if I had anointed and prayed for my wife, my answer was yes. But she hasn’t been healed. Just as sickness is not always the result of sin, so God doesn’t always choose to heal our sicknesses when we ask. He is sovereign. I must trust His plan.

If you’re sick, examine your spiritual life. If it’s in order, pray for healing, but leave the results to an all-wise God.

Prayer: Father, we entrust our health-related matters to you. If sin is the cause, convict us. If it’s not, then give us courage to trust You and endure.

Seeking Refuge

Protect me! Rescue my life from them!
Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge.

Psalm 25:20 NLT

The day appeared calm enough, but Mother Nature soon released her hidden fury.

My brother and I—along with my daughter—set out early for a ten-mile mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. At the five mile point, we planned to set up camp and walk the remainder of the way without our packs.

As we reached our destination, the sound of thunder greeted us. Mountain storms were familiar to us, so we decided to set up camp. Within minutes of driving the last tent stake, we felt the first drops of rain. Then came a torrential downpour with lighting to match. We huddled on our rubber sleeping mats, hoping lightning wouldn’t strike the tall pines above us.

After sitting for what seemed like hours, we tumbled into a trail shelter nestled a mere 100 yards away. Through pouring rain, intermittent lightning, and puddled water, we made it to our refuge where we remained for the next several hours, listening to storm after storm march through the mountains. Though our refuge was only a three-sided shelter, we felt secure.

David’s enemies were numerous—among them lions, bears, Philistines, giants, and even a jealous king. Regardless of who or what they were, David found refuge in a big God whom he trusted to protect him.

I’ve sought refuge in healthy and unhealthy things. At the end of a stressful day, I love taking refuge in a good book. I cherish the times when my wife and I can go to a restaurant alone, without friends or the grandboys. Sitting in our old glider on our back patio in the fall of the year is also nice.

But I’ve also attempted to find refuge in unhealthy things during stressful times. Instead of running to God, I ran to addictions or unhealthy relationships. They brought only temporary satisfaction, along with a foreboding sense of guilt that I was looking in the wrong place.

Where David found refuge is where we should. A healthy relationship with a loving Savior is the only thing that brings satisfaction, contentment, and peace. All other things and people will disappoint. He always loves unconditionally and protects faithfully. Friendships and family can be the icing on the cake, but they can never take God’s place.

Run to God for refuge when times are tough.

Prayer: Father, thank You for being a trustworthy place of refuge when life is stormy—a place that will never disappoint us.

Take a Break

Before daybreak the next morning,
Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 1:35 NLT

When you’re spastic, taking a break isn’t easy.

I’ve never been one to sit and twiddle my thumbs. Sitting and doing nothing makes me feel lazy. Since I only have so much time in life, I want to make the best use of every minute. Having this tendency opens me up to the possibility of over-commitment and burnout. What others ask of me, I usually agree to do—often not pausing long enough to pray first. I love seeing how much I can accomplish in 24 hours. Not that I crave recognition or do things for recognition, but like most people I enjoy being appreciated. Sitting for hours watching a movie or relaxing in conversation with company is difficult. My mind races, thinking about all the things I could be doing that would seem more productive.

Jesus was a busy man. Knowledge of His ability to heal spread like a California wildfire. Crowds crowded around Him. Everyone wanted healing for themselves, a friend, or a family member. Had He taken advantage of every opportunity, He would have never gotten any rest or sleep.

After a long day and evening of healing, Jesus rose the next morning, went to an isolated place, and prayed. When some of the disciples found Him and told Him everyone was looking for Him, He told them He had other places to go. He couldn’t stay in this one place forever.

Breaks from the daily grind of life are essential for good health—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. We can’t do everything everyone might ask of us. There’s not enough time in the day, nor does God expect that of us. Jesus knew He needed rejuvenation, and it came through a quiet time with the Father.

Quiet times—whether in the early morning, late morning, or evening, are crucial in our service for God. Not only did Jesus’ spirit receive refreshing, but He also received instructions from the Father about His next move. Ironically, it wasn’t where He was—even though there were many there who needed His help. Rather, the Father told Him to move to a different area.

Enjoying life and making sure we’re on God’s track only happen when we’ve taken a break long enough to discover God’s will. So go ahead, take a break—and don’t feel guilty about it.

Prayer: Father, remind us we need breaks to refresh our spirits so we can do our best for You.

An Army of Misfits

So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there.  Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men. 1 Samuel 22:1-2 NLT

What others consider misfits, God often considers fits.

My father served as interim pastor for a small, struggling church after he retired. Once a thriving church on the local lake, it now struggled to survive. Dad tried to get them to take their eyes off their situation and focus outwardly. If the church grew, many of their problems would disappear.

At Dad’s behest, the church began reaching out. They ordered door hangers and placed them on houses in the community, inviting any and everyone who would come…planting seeds. When the church called a new pastor, the preparatory work had been done. He picked up where Dad left off and continued going into the community, inviting all.

People from all walks of life began to come. Most of them from the wrong side of the tracks. People who had sordid backgrounds and lived questionable lifestyles. The people in the church found the people in their community were quite different, but they didn’t let that stop them. They loved them and took them in. Soon, the church became the fastest growing church in the local association. But it was a church of misfits—at least according to many.

Jesus also had a tendency to invite those to follow Him who were considered misfits. His 12 disciples weren’t who others might have picked to change the world: fishermen, a tax collector, and who knows what else. Nor were those who collected around David as he ran from King Saul’s attempts to kill him. But they became a great army. And those 12 disciples initiated a world revival.

Thinking God can’t use me because I have a sordid background or because I’m enduring unfortunate circumstances in the present is the Devil’s ploy. If he can convince you, he will keep you unproductive. God, on the other hand, has good plans for us. We were created in His image, and nothing we’ve experienced—or are experiencing, can hinder His work unless we let it. Confession, repentance, and trust wipe the slate clean.

God loves to use those the world considers misfits because when great things are accomplished through them He gets the credit. And after all, shining the spotlight on God is what life is about.

Don’t let others—or Satan—convince you God can’t use you. All God requires is your willingness.

The Death Vigil

Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies,
for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT

He lay almost motionless—a Superman tattoo on his arm.

My brother-in-law often kidded that he was Superman. And he had been. He had survived things that killed many people. Though a young man, several heart attacks had damaged his heart beyond repair.

Not only had he survived health issues, but he had also made it through many years of reckless living. He had endured beatings, robberies, and a near fatal shooting. He made it through work injuries. When the list was perused, I could understand the Superman tattoo on his arm as well as his mentality.

At last, the great leveler of all mankind had conquered him. Doctors had done all they could. Now he lay in a hospital bed in a local Hospice house. The doctor talked to the family. His body was shutting down. There was nothing else they could do but make him comfortable. My wife swabbed his mouth, used a machine to suck draining body fluids, held her phone to his ear while playing one of his favorite songs, and cried. Family members took turns talking to him and expressing their love.

Had his dilemma happened six months ago, we would have been more worried. A part of his reckless living was holding God at arm’s length. He grew up going to church but had left that part of his life many years before. Though filled with grief, we weren’t as worried now. He recently made his peace with God and spoke often of his readiness to meet his Savior. Our hearts were comforted.

Paul also took security in knowing that if persecution took his life he would immediately be in heaven with his Savior.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but knowing they will enter heaven’s gates and that we will see them again in eternity makes the process easier. Heaven isn’t a pie-in-the-sky fairy tale believed by those who need courage to face death but an actual place prepared for those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus said there are many rooms there—enough for as many as believe in Him.

Our family took comfort in knowing our loved one would be waiting on us. We invite you to join us. Believe today. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Dropout

For we are God’s masterpiece.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

I hated school, so I decided to quit.

Elementary and middle school, I enjoyed, but when I got to high school, a sudden distaste evolved. By the time I reached my senior year, I’d had all I could take. I had no interest in learning, didn’t see how any of what I was learning would benefit me, and wanted out. So I pranced up to my parents and said, “I’m quitting school.” Dad didn’t take the news well and politely told me if I quit I would be going to work. I was okay with that. I had no plans to sit around and do nothing.

After three or four months, my high school dropout status wasn’t fun anymore. The job I found ended, and I was on the unemployment line. I decided I’d return to school. I couldn’t graduate with my class, but I did graduate that summer.

The statistics for high school dropouts are alarming. More than one million students drop out of school annually—one leaving every 26 seconds. An additional 25% don’t graduate on time. But school isn’t the only place people drop out from. Church follows on its heels. Among 18 to 22 year-olds, around 70% drop out. The reasons vary: life changes, move to college, work, judgmental Christians, changes in their religious views.

Dropping out of church, however, isn’t relegated to this group alone. Others do as well. Some burnout. They take on too much—perhaps because others aren’t doing their part. They try to pacify guilt over past mistakes or because they misunderstand salvation and think they can work to get it or keep it. Some drop out because they atrophy, like unused muscles.

God doesn’t intend or want us to drop out of His work. He saves us by His grace and mercy, creates us as His masterpiece, and wants us to do good works that will disseminate His love across the world. These works don’t save us initially or keep us saved thereafter, but they are proof of our faith connection with Him.

When asked, God will give me wisdom to balance my life so my chances of dropping out of His service diminish significantly.

Don’t drop out on God. With balance, serve Him faithfully to the end of your life.

Healthy Habits

Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.
Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

Old habits are hard to break.

For four years, we lived in a small townhouse. Our Chihuahua, Twix, was accustomed to the way the doors to the bedroom and outside opened and would stand at the appropriate side of the door to enter or exit. Then we moved. Although the townhouse we moved into had the same floor plan, it was a mirror image of our previous one. Our dog was confused.

On Twix’s first trip outside, he stood at the left side of the door. That’s what he had been accustomed to. But now the door opened from the right. He repeated the same action for the bedroom door and had to change sides when I opened it. After a week, he managed to break his old habit and stand at the proper side for entering and exiting.

Being born with dark skin was a genetic habit for the Ethiopian. So was having spots for the leopard. An Ethiopian has no power to change his color, nor can a leopard become spotless. According to the prophet, humanity has a genetic flaw of sorts as well. We can’t do good because we’ve all done evil. The reason is the sin nature we’re born with which leads us down the wrong path to sinful behavior and attitudes.

My dog’s habits were neither morally good nor bad. They were just habits. I’ve had a few habits like that myself. Among them, biting my fingernails. It took my grandmother giving me $20 and one finger getting infected for me to break that habit. But I’ve also had some habits that were morally wrong and difficult to break. Those habits emerged from the sinful nature I was born with. By myself, I was helpless to do good.

In my own power, I can’t break the habit of doing bad and adopt the habit of doing good. But it is possible when I appeal to a Higher Power. Christ in me enables me to change the color of my skin and lose my spots. He enables me to consistently do good things instead of evil things. Accepting His offer of forgiveness opens up new possibilities for an abundant life.

Accept Christ into your life so you can break the old bad habits and adopt new healthy ones.

God’s Safe Place

As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock
and cover you with my hand until I have passed by
.
Exodus 33:22 NLT

She had been abused and needed a safe place.

Johnnie was in a situation of her own making. For 13 years, she had endured an abusive marriage—one she entered to escape the harsh atmosphere of her upbringing.

When the opportunity came for Johnnie to move out, she took it. Jim seemed like a good guy when she dated him, but his true identity revealed itself shortly after she said, “I do.” Abusive words, demeaning remarks, bruises. They all became the norm. Johnnie tried to fend them off but had to admit they were taking their toll on her self-esteem.

Eventually, Johnnie decided she’d had enough, but she needed a safe place. She didn’t turn to a home for abusive women but rather contacted her parents. By this time, her dad had mellowed. She thought she could endure life with them until she could make other arrangements.

Moses needed a safe place too. While he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were below partying as if they had no God they were accountable to. When God told Moses to leave the mountain and take the people with him—but that He wouldn’t be tagging along, it was more than Moses could stand. God decided to give them another chance, but Moses needed reassurance. So God placed Moses in a crevice and let him glance at His presence as He passed by.

Life is tough and filled with many experiences I’d rather not repeat. Wallowing in self-pity or in the memory of the event only keeps me smelling the toxic nature of what I have experienced. A better course is asking God to put me in His safe place.

When God places me in His safe place, He reassures me of His presence. If separation has taken place, it’s because I left Him—not because He left me. He promises never to abandon His children. In God’s safe places, I’m also reminded of who He is and who I’m not. He is the all-powerful Creator who is qualified to lead me through any and every circumstance, protecting me in the process.

Moses had nothing to fear; nor do I. And neither do you. When life gets tough, ask God to put you in His safe place where you can find grace, reassurance, and peace.

Swallowed by Sorrow

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.
Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Matthew 26:38 NLT

Sorrow can be a bitter pill to swallow, and I felt as if I was being swallowed by it.

Days stretched into months. An act of betrayal by another had turned my family inside out and headed it straight for dissolution. Though the situation could have been fixed, it wasn’t, and the shadow of depression soon hung over my head like a thunderous cloud.

Unemployment followed on the heels of everything else that had disintegrated. Months passed as I sent out hundreds of applications to various places, looking for anything that would help me support my family. Finally, a job opened, but the depression hung around. My outward appearance and actions seemed normal, but my insides churned.

Various trips to the emergency room for chest pains alerted my family doctor that something was wrong. “You’re depressed. Take the medication I’m giving you, and stay out of the emergency room,” he said. I followed his advice, and slowly the depression receded.

One translation has Jesus saying, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow.” I suppose He felt that way. He was overwhelmed by what was ahead, but His disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open to comfort Him. He felt alone…that He was fighting the battle by Himself. And He was. They could not go to the cross and die for humanity’s sins. Only a perfect person could. He wasn’t sorry He was doing it, but the weight of what was ahead had the power to swallow His soul in sorrow.

Situations that cause grief and intense sorrow aren’t easy to face, but they are faced in a healthier way when others support us. Trying to face sorrow alone often leads to depression, whereas having a support system tends to ward off the dark clouds of depression. If Jesus needed companionship in His time of sorrow, I do too.

Of course, my greatest support system is found in my relationship with Jesus. I can’t physically experience Him with my senses, but His presence is felt through my spirit. This spirit-to-Spirit relationship surpasses anything I might feel with my senses.

Don’t try to face times of sorrow alone. Depend on God and godly people to help you through your trying times.