When Fear Comes Knocking

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There’s an intruder who’s been coming around the past couple weeks, knocking insistently at my door. I knew him well in my younger and less experienced days, when I would often open at his bidding. I’d invite him in, entertaining him under the guise of being cautious, concerned or more organized. And truly, those are all noble sentiments and endeavors. Yet more often than not, I’d find myself giving him free run and reign of my mind and heart. And before I knew what had hit me, he would rob me of all peace: heart racing, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’d swallowed a brick; tension rising and temples beginning to throb.

Fear. It’s one of the enemy of our soul’s favorite playmates.

As I move on in years (just past the half century mark, as a matter of fact) and have faced many a challenge that has stretched me far beyond my own capacities, I’ve learned a thing or two about fear.

No matter how tenderly or fervently he knocks, I can choose not to open. And I have become cognizant of his many disguises and tactics. While perceiving fear’s presence and desire to bust in and take over isn’t necessarily sufficient in warding him off, it is most certainly the first step. When I recognize what’s going on before I’ve been overwhelmed, I can choose to lean into the One who has my back, the God who knows me intimately – shortcomings and all.

Each time I give heed, as fear opens his mouth and whispers in my ear, I start focusing on all those things that feel out of control… or over which I really have no control. My mind begins to ponder how I can escape them, dominate them or whip them into submission. And, as my breathing becomes labored and suffocation sets in, who is at the center of it all? Me, of course.

My sufficiency.
My ability.
My strength.
My courage.
My reputation.

My failings.
My weaknesses.
My lack.
My brokenness.
My suffering.

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precious
God, persistently patient Father,
this day,
every moment,
I turn my eyes to you.
When my walls feel like they
are crumbling down,
You
are my sufficiency,
my ability.

When my legs feel too weak for me to stand upon, and my strength and courage are sorely fading, you are my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. You are the safe place that I can run into.

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How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
    therefore I hate every wrong path.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.
Psalm 119: 103-105

When I’m feeling confused and overtaken by fear, God’s Word is both my nourishment and my weapon. It provides me with the truth that I need to dispel the darkness, while skillfully cutting through it like a honed, carbon steel blade. It not only speaks wisdom to my heart, but it packs a powerful punch: accomplishing its purpose, tearing down lies, shining light in the darkness. His Word is living, and is as life-changing today as it was before it was ever spoken.

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Fear, take your knocking fingers elsewhere. I will not be opening up to you today. I will instead put my trust in the One who gave his Son for my redemption. And with a heart of thanksgiving, I will leave my worries at the feet of my God, exchanging them for his precious peace. The peace that guards my very heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, 
which transcends all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

 

When you Plant and Others Reap the Harvest

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I was back out there weeding our fruit and vegetable garden the other day, and so pleased to see little baseball-sized melons coming in among the vines. They had been planted last Spring, along with the rest of our garden, by our friend Fábio. I watered and nurtured them as they grew, and then the friends who stayed at our house from June through August faithfully continued. They should be ready for harvest around October. I love fresh melon on a hot day and as I tended their delicate vines, I savoured the thought of eating them in just a month or so.

Then I realized we’ll probably be away when they ripen. You see, we’re flying up to Germany on October 11 for Steiger’s annual gathering of its leaders and workers from around the world, and then continuing on to the US for our daughter’s wedding, which will be followed by some visiting and speaking. We’ll only return to Portugal in early November. Other friends, who have so graciously offered to stay here at our house and care for our animals during our absence, will hopefully get to enjoy the melons (though there still may be some around in November)!

When we planted the garden back in March and April, our intention was to be here throughout the summer to enjoy its fruits. The first radishes, lettuce and strawberries were ready to consume in May, while Denny was on tour with No Longer Music. I was here at home alone then, and relished each plant’s yield! I so enjoy eating the fruits of our labor, fresh from the ground!

But summer plans radically changed, as they sometimes do when you live a bit like the wind and are willing to go – or stay – where and when you’re needed. We had intended to be at Steiger’s Missions School for ten days in June and then return to Portugal. But due to an unexpected chain of events, we were asked to remain there and help out on staff until the third week of August… and we accepted. Because of this, the remainder of our lovely garden’s harvest – the abundant tomatoes of many varieties, the carrots and zucchinis, the rest of the lettuce and strawberries, and a couple trees worth of figs – all matured while we were out of the country and were enjoyed by others.

img_20160911_191233As I considered the fact that we would now also miss out on eating the melons (all the while carefully pulling away the weeds winding themselves around their vines), I thought of how often we’ve experienced this in our lives. Over these past thirty-one years in Southern Europe, we have faithfully plowed, sown, planted, watered, weeded and pruned. We’ve tried to be obedient to all we’ve felt God calling us to, always hopeful and expectant of the fruit to be harvested – of seeing young people’s lives impacted by the Gospel of Christ, transformed by His grace and mercy. But we are pioneers. And more often than not, just when things begin to get rolling and the fields become white for harvest, we are called onward to begin to plow some other rocky terrain.

img_1336When I reflect on the great fathers of our faith: those who went before us, risking all, trusting God,
following where He led,
walking in faith – often blindly – towards what He had promised, I’m reminded that they too
did not personally reap
the harvest nor enjoy the fruits of their labor on most occasions. Yet they obeyed and they went where and when God called them, grateful and joyful to have been chosen by the Giver of Life for such a task. Hebrews 11, verse 13 tells of them:

All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised;
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,
admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 

It may not often be our privilege to reap the harvest and enjoy those tasty, freshly gathered fruits, but I am so thankful for the life we have been given to live. I know I write that here quite often, but it is absolutely the truth. Denny and I gladly prepare the ground wherever we are, digging out the stones and pulling up the weeds, planting, watering and pruning. And without a doubt, there has been many a time when others have come, as our friends did this summer, and tended the garden on our behalf, preventing those tender plants from withering away due to thirst or from being choked by weeds, when we were unable to do so.

Each of us has been gifted and called. And whether we’ve been commissioned to a glorious and very visible task, or simply to mop up a mess or clean up the debris left behind by a storm, we are privileged to serve the one true God and to walk in His footsteps, to obey and to carry out his bidding. What a joy to be co-workers in the service of the Master Farmer, the one who makes things grow!

 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,
but only God, who makes things grow.

The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,
and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.

For we are co-workers in God’s service;
you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:7-9

Thoughts that Can Slowly Suffocate Us

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Having returned home to Portugal at the end of August after almost three months away in Germany serving at Steiger’s Missions School, I’ve often found my mind racing like a runaway freight train. There’s the processing of all that I saw God do in and through the students and volunteers – and us, the staff – during the school itself. The many things He spoke to me and challenged me in during these intense months. The unpacking, cleaning, reorganizing, scheduling and attempts to catch up that go along with repatriation after a long absence. And the reflections about the future when stepping into a new season: important choices and decisions to make for the coming year, propositions to consider, travels to plan including our upcoming trip to the US for our daughter Alana’s wedding. The list goes on. And on.

KA-BOOM!

When my thoughts threaten to take over, to squelch my daily times of restful meditation with God and of listening to what He is saying, our garden is my “happy place”, my refuge. Somehow, quite magically, when I begin to weed and prune its plants and trees, as I dig my hands into its soil, the cacophony in my head is silenced. My ears are opened to listen, my soul stilled by the Prince of Peace.

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So on this particular day,
I set out to weed our melon patch and its surroundings… and I found it to be overrun by thin, tendriled invaders.
They were almost beautiful
in their delicate appearance, some sporting
pretty white flowers.
Yet the tenacity with which
they wound themselves
around every branch –
clinging to, even choking them – was truly impressive.

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I began to reflect on the subject of thoughts…
how easily we can allow these predators to wrap their slender arms around us, circling and circling, until we find ourselves trapped.

I have always loved and referred back to the scripture verse in the second book of Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 5. It says:  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

I must remember this. Because I belong to Christ, and I have been redeemed by His amazing sacrifice and resurrection, I can demolish arguments and every ridiculous pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. My thoughts try to do this all the time… those crazy, freight train thoughts that are so readily fueled by the frantic pace of this world. They would love to derail me, to send me on some ridiculous path of worry, fear and uncertainty; to wrap their slender arms around me and choke the life out of me. They set themselves up against the knowledge of my incredible God. And that’s when He asks me… no, better still – He empowers me! To take those thoughts captive and to make them obedient to Christ. HE is my Lord. HE directs my steps. Not my fears or worries. Not the absurd pace of the world around me. Only Jesus rules my life. And He will lead me in the way that I should go.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that. All that I am belongs to Him alone, so I am not the victim of this world’s freneticism. I can choose… and my God gives me the power to walk in that choice.

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Steiger Missions School – photo cred Marina Bolobon

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

 

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
 I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Psalm 32:7,8