Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fear and Faith: On the Platforms of the Windmill

Fear is a strange thing. It overtakes all sense of logic and can leave its victim without the ability to even form a coherent thought. I know this because I have seen it first hand. While I do have a fear of heights, it usually does not require me to change much about my life. I would say that my fear is a milder version than some. My oldest daughter is absolutely, completely terrified of frogs or toads. I know that may sound strange to you, but the sight of an amphibious, jumping little greenish brown thing will send her to edge of reality and she will do whatever she can to get as far away as possible while trying not to hyperventilate. We are not exactly sure when or why this fear was birthed, but it runs deep. Luckily, it isn't as though one has to maneuver around frogs on a daily basis in Central Texas, so it really doesn't impact her life too terribly.

My mother on the other hand, like me is scared of heights. Maybe I should rephrase that, she is deathly terrified of any height taller than a two-inch wedge heel. One time she had received tickets to watch the Texas Rangers play because she was being honored as her school district's Teacher of the Year. The tickets were just a few rows from the very top of the incredibly tall stadium. I wasn't too keen on going up there to watch (I mean, the birds were flying below us), but my husband, father, and other family were excited about seeing their favorite team. I stayed with mom. She confided in me that when she gets up in high places like that, she is overcome by the intense thought to just go ahead and jump to her death because it is going to happen anyway; her brain says, "Get it over with already!" I was flabbergasted, and quickly made her promise to never do that! Truth is, she can't control the fear, it completely overpowers her logic and luckily she has never acted on the urge. Mom doesn't even do very well going down single flights of stairs or escalators if they are the narrow kind. The more narrow they are, the more steep they appear, and her fear starts to set in. She has managed her entire life and has learned ways to manage her fear and occasionally even beats her fear, but it never goes away. Fear is a really strange thing.

I have heard several times that fear and faith cannot reside in the brain at the same time; that your mind is either fearful or faithful. Which leads me to believe that, like fear, faith must be something that overcomes you and even overtakes all sense of logic. Faith usually isn't logical. Fear is hardly ever logical. In my experience, one causes me to behave illogically and the other causes me to rest in the illogical.

 A great illustration of fear versus faith is a story I remember my Grandpa and Grandma telling me when I was younger. You see, I think the fear of heights was something that in a lot of ways could have been passed down from generation to generation. My grandpa was an intimidating man who stood tall at six feet seven inches. He was a wheat farmer in Northern Oklahoma and a school teacher and counselor. My grandma complemented Grandpa with her slight five foot even build and often helped in the farming business as well as taught school herself. I am sure while reading this post, Grandma will smile at the story and hopefully I do it justice, as my grandpa was quite the story teller in his day.
Grandma and Grandpa in the early years
Grandma and Grandpa ( We sure do miss him)

As I recall, Grandpa and Grandma were working at the farm and the windmill had somehow broken. This windmill was instrumental in their farming because it pumped the water for the stock pond or "tank" for the livestock on the farm. (Grandpa owned cattle and a few horses as well as farming wheat.) Without the windmill pumping water to the tank, the animals would not survive. My grandpa, remember was afraid of heights. I believe his fear was at least as strong as my mother's if not more magnified.

I am not completely certain how tall the windmill was, but in talking to my parents, I am thinking it was around 25-30 feet in the air, and looked similar to this one. The way I remember the story, Grandpa had determined what exactly was broken on the windmill and had the ability and parts to repair it so he and Grandma headed down to the creek. I don't know if you can see it, but on this lovely wooden structure is a tiny little wooden ladder going up one side. The way I always pictured this in my mind when Grandpa told the story was that his had the ladder up the back of the windmill, but it could have been on the side. The problem was that the portion that needed to be repaired was on the opposite side as the ladder, and around the front (blade-side) of the windmill. This meant that someone would have to climb up the tiny, rickety ladder, step on that tiny platform at the top, then stretch around the blades to the other platform to stand so they could do the repairs. Here is where the story gets interesting.

Determined to be self-sustaining and take care of his farm, my grandpa steeled himself against his fear of heights and began the ascent of the tiny ladder. Now I always found it fascinating that a man who to me seemed 12 feet tall would be in the least affected by heights, but nevertheless, he was. At the top, I am sure shaking with fright, but still determined, he would take a deep breath and try to get the nerve up to step on the tiny platform and then stretch his long legs around and step to the other side to fix the windmill. He couldn't do it.  Defeated, he climbed down. Knowing they had to get it fixed, Grandma offers to give it a try. (don't forget she is just 5' tall.) She climbs up the ladder, which probably took her a little longer, and gets to the top. Grandma doesn't have the intense fear of heights, so she steps to the platform and makes the attempt to get to the other side. Her shorter legs will not reach. Defeated, she climbs down. The story goes that Grandpa climbed up again and tried to overpower the intense fear that he had and just couldn't get to the other side, so he climbed back down because Grandma thought she could make it this time. Grandma climbs up and stretches as far as tiny legs will stretch and cannot reach the other side. Apparently they did this little dance of the windmill  for quite a while before my grandpa was able to overcome the fear and get to the other side, repair the windmill and continue farming. Can you just imagine the conversation between this young couple as they both know this has to get done and neither one seem to be able to get it done and yet, there is no one else to do it for them. I can imagine the frustration, conflict, irritation, and later comic relief the entire windmill repair embodied. In that moment, Grandpa had to have enough faith that the platform would hold him, that he could do it, that he would not fall so he could overtake the deeply rooted fear that had prevented him from being successful on every prior attempt. Was the platform stronger that last time? Was Grandpa better prepared? Was he more steady or more ready? Was the climb shorter or the height less scary? I wasn't there, but my guess to each of these questions is, "Absolutely not!" There was no more logical reason to believe it would be okay the 10th time he tried than the 1st time he tried; he just got tired of allowing the fear to win. One side of that windmill platform was labeled FEAR and the other side labeled FAITH; fear and faith cannot abide in our lives at the same time.

Psalm 56: 3-4
"When I am afraid, 
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise
In God I trust; I will not fear"

A fear of heights, or frogs, or storms (another family trait), or snakes, or spiders or public speaking are all things people deal with on a regular basis. Often it is not as much the identified item that is feared, but the threat of what danger or harm it might possibly inflict upon its victim. Many fears are natural, healthy survival instincts that sometimes are fed a little too aggressively. The fears that are the most damaging in my opinion are the silent ones; the ones no one will talk about. The fear of failure, the fear of commitment, the fear of success, the fear of responsibility, the fear of the truth,the fear of loss, the fear of change, the fear of the future, the fear of the past catching up to us, the fear of rejection, the fear of the unknown, the fear of being known...these fears are more taboo; these fears are silent. These fears we don't like to admit we have. These fears will control our lives if we allow them and are infinitely more aggressive than the tangible fears.

You see, my mom can choose the elevator instead of steep stairs. Kaitlyn can just avoid Kermit. My grandpa could have even paid someone else to climb the windmill if it had come to that or found a friend to help. But these silent fears, these intangible fears,  these are the ones that will overcome you and cause you to make poor decisions or keep you from good decisions. These fears will hold you hostage and stifle your growth. These fears are ongoing, and can only be overcome by replacing them with something that will overcome your heart with just as much intensity and power: faith.

The Bible says in Hebrews:
Hebrews 11:1
"Now faith is the assurance of what is hoped for; the conviction of what is unseen."

It is impossible to be fearful and have faith at the same time. You cannot step out in faith if you have fear! The apostle Peter who saw Jesus coming to him on the top of the water asked to be able to walk on the water also and Jesus said one simple word to Peter, "Come." Peter jumped out of the boat, ignoring the waves of a tumultuous sea, and started walking. He had faith in that moment in his Savior and was stepping out not in water, but in faith alone, which held him above the water. But suddenly, he slipped into human logic and realized what was happening was impossible by all accounts and that the sea was tossing around him and he was fully clothed in garments that were probably pretty heavy, especially when wet. His fear took hold of him, and he began to sink. What did Jesus say and do? He said, " You of little faith..." The faith had been immediately replaced by fear and Jesus had to reach out and restore the faith. Maybe it is just me, but God has told me so many times to "come" and I will be excited until I notice a little wind resistance or a wave lapping at my toes and suddenly I am thrust head-first into my former fears! Thank goodness our Lord is gracious and patient with me and picks me up, and reminds me that faith should have my focus, not fear.

Matthew 14:29-31
29 “Come!” He said.
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.30 But when he saw the strength of the wind,[k] he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
One other thing I have heard speakers say about fear is that something like 90% of what you fear never happens! Honestly, I do not know if that is some fabricated statistic to make a point or not, but from my experience, it holds a lot of truth. Things that I worry myself over or try to manipulate situations to avoid, hardly ever happen anyway! The times that the most feared thing happened, I have grown through that and learned so much about who I am and who others are and most importantly who God is. If I think of the flip side of the coin, in my experience, the same percentage (if not more) would have to apply about things that I rested in faith over; at least 90%- if not all- worked out just how they were supposed to. Sometimes, not exactly how I had planned, but in hindsight, my plans really aren't all they are cracked up to be.

Think about the rhetoric often used around the word 'fear'. Frozen in FEAR. Gripping FEAR. Overcome by FEAR. Overwhelming FEAR. Wild with FEAR. Spine- tingling FEAR. Heart-pounding FEAR. Trembling with FEAR. Awe struck FEAR. Just typing these makes my heart race a little and I am feeling a little anxious! But for a moment, think with me about the difference it would make, just in the meanings of the phrases if you replaced FEAR with the one and only thing that can literally take its place: FAITH. How would you like to have overwhelming FAITH? Or to be Overcome by FAITH? Spine-tingling FAITH? Heart-pounding FAITH! Or one of my favorites, wild with FAITH! Wow, what a difference! One windmill platform of FEAR and the other of FAITH! What a beautiful picture in my mind now! I think I may write these on cards so I can flip over the fear and replace it with faith! I don't know if anyone can relate, but this gets me excited and makes my heart beat a little faster!

I don't know which particular fear grips you the easiest, but I have found that being aware of the feeling helps me put it in greater perspective and I know that spirit of fear is not from God. God gives us the ability to have faith; Satan throws darts of fear at us. If I am truly overcome by fear, that is of the devil and I have the Holy Spirit in me that can cast that off if I will just allow faith to abide instead.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

 There are countless scriptures in the Bible that either use the phrase " Do not be afraid" or "Fear not". This is a list of just a few. If you are struggling with replacing fear with faith, please look these up and read them OUT LOUD! Let your mouth speak the words, your ears hear the words so your heart will know the words.

Deuteronomy 31:6 & 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10 & 54:4, Jeremiah 1:8, Ezekiel 2:6, Matthew 10:26, John 14:27, Hebrews 13:6, I John 4:18

Isaiah 44:8 is one of my favorites:

"Do not be startled or afraid. Have I not told you and declared it long ago? You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock."

You know we refer to it as a "leap of faith" but there is no such thing as a "leap of fear." Fear is human nature, unintentional. Faith is God's nature and must therefore be humanly intentional. So here's to intentionally replacing fear with faith; every day, every time, everyone.

Blessed more than I deserve,

Monday, August 4, 2014

But I Trust in You....

I have always been a sucker for a great quote. I have several quotes that I post around my classroom and have even had a quote of the day for several years while teaching. Yesterday, while catching up on one of my favorite shows that I record and watch later, one of the characters said a line that made me stop for a moment and say a mental "wow." In that one line, God began to speak this next blog post.

" Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." (Auggie, Covert Affairs) 

Now before you think I am one of those people who can find a connection to God in anything, let me say that I don't really mean to do so; I think it is more like God finds me. It isn't like I watch a show and think, "I wonder what God is going to say to me through Law and Order today." Or go to the movies with the mindset that Denzel's next line is going to be a Spiritual awakening in my heart. What happens is much more subtle than that. Something more akin to a whisper of God, " Did you see/hear that? Don't you see how that is just like me?" or "Did you see what I did there?" So when Auggie said, "Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." God said, "Just like my relationship with my children; why is it so hard to trust me? " Whoa - that was unexpected. I watched the rest of the show and went about my day in normal fashion, but the lingering thought kept coming to me, "Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust."

As I was trying to sleep that night and knew that I would be writing this, my mind raced. I thought about all the things we so readily give our trust to every single day, but somehow handing our trust over to the Creator of the World causes such internal turmoil and resistance. I mean honestly think about all the people and things we put our trust in today. Have you ever had your car parked by a valet? I know some of you adore (possibly idolize) that car, but you trust some random stranger in khakis to park your car for you without a scratch. We trust that the rest of the general public will follow at least enough driving rules daily that when we get out on the roads in our vehicle, we will return safely; this despite the inordinate number of accidents that happen in a 24 hour time period. We trust our bank with our hard-earned money. We trust our well-educated doctor to treat our ailments accurately. We trust people we barely know to watch our children while we work or even while we work out! We even trust random strangers to cook our meals for us on a regular basis! We trust pilots to fly us to our destination.  We trust our friends, our coworkers, our family, our ministers. We put our trust in the most fallible creature on the planet every day and rarely think twice about it. But when God asks us to trust him often He is greeted by whining, and wailing and whys. Whoa.

Proverbs 3:5-6Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own understanding;

think about Him in all your ways,

and He will guide you on the right paths.

"Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." 
We give our gratitude freely. I mean, that should be enough right? So, I searched the words, "trust in the Lord" in a Bible app I like to use and it gave me 56 different scripture references that all say that exact phrase. I looked up just the word, "gratitude" and received two different scriptures and only one of them was in reference to the Lord. Now I am sure you are thinking that the word "thanks"( and is basically the same as gratitude) is listed throughout scripture and you would be correct. But I want you to consider that having gratitude and giving thanks are two different, albeit connected, ideas. Gratitude is a state of the heart; a way of feeling. Whereas giving thanks is an act spurred on by gratitude. Gratitude is a way we feel after God does something, trust on the other hand is required prior to God's work.

 We are never really commanded to have gratitude in our hearts, but we are commanded to trust with all our heart. The Psalms are filled with verses about trusting in the Lord, and what that means. Many of the scriptures that talk about trusting him also give us the promises that go along with that trust. I think trust is an act of the heart, something that combines both the state of the heart and an accompanying action.

Psalm 28:7New International Version (NIV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
    and with my song I praise him.

I've thought that maybe we have a difficult time trusting the Lord because we don't really know him. But then I am reminded again of all the people we do not know, or barely know, that we trust daily. Sometimes that trust is even ruined by a person and yet we turn around and place the same trust in another random stranger. For instance, my husband once contracted food poisoning from a meal eaten at a particular restaurant. It was terrible and landed us in the emergency room at our local hospital. Granted, we have not gone back to that particular restaurant, but we have eaten in numerous restaurants since then. Most, if not all, with people cooking our food that we do not know. I know people who have had a terrible haircut experience, but that has not stopped them from getting their hair done by someone. Or a misdiagnosis from a doctor, or a bad manicure, or misinformation passed on from a friend, or gossip spread by a coworker. The list could go on for miles. Some of them we even chalk up to human error and continue to trust that same person; I mean everyone has an off day, right?

So why then is it so hard to trust the One who never has an off day? The One who knit us together in our mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13) The One whose promises are lavished upon us over and over in His love-letter to our hearts; promises that only can come from the Creator himself. Promises that the good works He has started in us, He will finish. (Philippians 1:6) Promises that He can use anything in our life for a good purpose.(Romans 8:28) Promises that He sees the whole plan and it is for us to prosper. (Jeremiah 29:11) Promises that we will be blessed just by trusting Him. (Psalm 40:4, 84, 12, Proverbs 16:20, Jeremiah 17:7) Promises that He has our best interest at heart and wants us to live abundantly. (John 10:10) Promises of peace and direction and hope. (Romans 15:13, 16:20, I Corinthians 14:33, Philippians 4:7) And that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface! He has promised joy from mourning, and beauty from ashes; He has promised help and justice, and joy!

So what is it? Why do we have to fight with everything we have to trust Him? I think it is partly because we are fighting a Spiritual battle against a very determined devil who wants to "kill, steal and destroy" our testimony! (John 10:10) Unfortunately, Satan is well-versed in the ways of our sinful hearts; he knows exactly what recording to play in our mind to get us off track and focused on our selfish desires. The one I think he caters to when it comes to trusting God, is our innate desire to control things. You see when we trust people in the world, we still have a semblance of control. Sometimes it is just a perceived control, but we live in a society that makes it seem as if we have the right to control everything in our lives. We do trust someone we have never met to cook our meal, but we control what the food is going to be and how we want it cooked and I've seen people exert their desire for control to the point that I am embarrassed for them when the meal fell short of their expectations. I have seen people walk out of a hair salon in tears and refused to pay when the stylist did not manage to make them look like Jennifer Aniston when "clearly that was the picture of the hairstyle they presented." I know there are people who will threaten lawsuits for every manner of thing that they put their trust in and the reality fell short of expectation. That is the kind of world we live in.

God's reality is much different. He demands unconditional trust and the very idea that we want to hold back a little tiny niblet of control completely negates that trust. For Him it is all or nothing, no options, no
pre-ordering for desired results, no sending back the plate for another try, no fit throwing or foot stomping. If any of that happens on our part, then it is apparent that the trust was not a heart trust like He truly wants. You see, He is preparing a feast for you and you don't even get to pick out the appetizer. He is a pilot of a plane that you do not know the destination. You do know it will be good, and for your benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes it may not be the feast we thought we ordered, but if we are trusting Him, it will be the one we accept with the gratitude that He provided a feast. Sometimes it is not one that we find appetizing at all at first, but God uses it to teach and grow and stretch us to a place that by the time we get to the dessert round, we might even order another plate! There are even sometimes that I feel like I am eating someone else's plate, if you know what I mean. I have to fight the urge to whine about it not being fair. If only I had a heart for others more than for myself, I would gladly take that plate served to impact the heart of another. I am convicted many times over for my lack of love for the very ones Christ is leaving me here to reach. I only hope that as He works in my life and heart that I will become more and more like Him daily.

The only other reason I can think of that causes us to not trust the Lord, Creator of Heavens and Earth, is that we don't really believe He is. Ouch. In my opinion, if we believe the scripture to be the Holy, God-breathed word of truth, then trusting should be the natural next step. We will not put our trust into something we don't believe in. If I walked into my hair salon and there was a "stylist" dressed in a chef's smock and hat with a set of knives and kitchen shears on the counter, I am not sure I would believe she was a hairdresser and most likely would not allow her to touch my hair! If we do not believe the Word of God as truth, then trust would be a ridiculous expectation. Maybe it is just a matter of being in the Word more, but I think it is a heart condition. If you have never truly put your belief into the Savior for eternal life and all that entails, then trusting Him for everything else is just silly and missing the point!

Those who know Your name trust in You because You have not abandoned those who seek You, Yahweh.

John 3:15-18Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

15 so that everyone who believes in Him will[a] have eternal life.
16 “For God loved the world in this way:[b] He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

"Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." will now be the resounding statement in my mind ever single time I thank God for something. Did I trust Him through this situation before the gratitude was placed in my heart for the outcome? Am I trusting Him 100%; no whining, wailing or whys? Do I trust Him unconditionally- without pre-ordering the outcome? If not, why not? In a world where trusting yourself and being in control is the primary theme, I challenge that unconditional trust in our Savior is the key to our fulfillment of His calling, the only way to grow Spiritually and a command to every child of God.

But I trust iYou, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

Blessed more than I deserve,