Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How To Be Brave

I have had so many people comment during this transition that I/we have been "so brave."  People admire my/our "bravery."  People comment that it's a very "brave thing we are doing, moving out here on faith."

And it's made me stop and consider what it means to actually be brave.  Because that is not an adjective I would ever use to describe myself.  It's not really even in the top 10.  Organized--yes.  Loyal--yes. Determined--yes.  Brave? Not so much.

I think it's because when my inner eye looks at myself in that inner mirror, I still see a tortured middle school student with a mouth full of metal braces and rubber bands trying to style her bangs into an awkward warp wall curving four inches off the top of her head held in place by an entire can of hairspray.  I see a girl with defeated self-esteem by her acne and lack of style in any arena of hair or clothing.  I see the girl that stared in the mirror all through high school trying to see what God saw, begging Him to show her. Trying to accept her sturdy-built body, Bounds legs (which are technically-speaking, small tree trunks inherited from my father's side of the family), shoulders that would rival a football players pads, and the hair--ugh.  I grew up in the '90's, people, when Rachel's (from the TV show Friends) straight thick hair was all the rage and my mess of fine, naturally curly poof wasn't making the cut.  It was more Jessie's style from Saved By the Bell, I just didn't have her tall, curvy body to pull it off.

So no, brave is not a word I have ever used to describe myself.  Ever.  Shy, unsure of my appearance at all times, socially a bit awkward (for reasons I will save for another day), and desperate for people to include me, to be my friend, to see me how God saw me because I wanted to see myself through His eyes so desperately.  Brave?  No.  Terrified at all times?  Quite possibly.

So then, I have to ask myself, 'What does it mean to be brave?'  Why do people think I'm brave now? What changed? And when did it change?  And how?

I like how my husband defines being brave.  He says whenever he thinks of what it must mean to be brave, he thinks about David and Goliath. (1 Samuel 17) He thinks about how David RAN at that giant. He didn't stand still, he definitely didn't back down, no, he ran AT Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:48)

And so I started to think about milestones in my life that have required what one might consider bravery, areas in my life where I didn't back down, I didn't run away, but I faced what was in front of me, and even welcomed the challenge--I ran at it.

There was that eighth grade camp where God had spoken to my heart that I was to come home and obey whatever my parents asked of me.  I came home to find out they wanted to home school me for high school.  Gulp.  'Ok, God. You said it.  Let's do it.'  Do you know how many home school jokes I have weathered my entire life because of that choice???

There was that moment my senior year when I experienced a terribly lonely season in life, and God called me to go on a mission trip to Ecuador with a church I had never attended and a group of people I did not know.  Complete strangers.  My first time in a foreign country.  It's still one of the most impactful events in my life.  It opened my eyes to a world outside of mine that was suffering and lost and in need of a Savior, a Savior I knew.  A Savior I too often took for granted.

There was that moment when I stepped out of my living room from watching trigonometry videos to finding my way around to classes on a college campus at Kennesaw State University.  Talk about throwing the fish into the frying pan.  I was petrified.

There was that moment in Earth Algebra 101 I realized I was the only one in the class who didn't know what a logarithm was and was completely lost on the first day of my first college math class. So I quelled the panic and marched myself directly to the tutoring lab every day after class to get help. I'd never needed help like that before in my life. The thought of failure was terrifying.

Then there was the moment I left home for  the first time ever to marry the man I love to move to Chattanooga. Tennessee.  Gulp. At the time, that was VERY far away from home. I went, but in hindsight,  I went kicking and screaming, but eventually made the best of it.

I could name countless more "moments" in my life that required what some might call bravery. Flashes-in-the-pan moments. Things at the time I felt I had no choice, no say in the matter. Things I realize now, God had prepared for me in my journey, in my process called life, to ready me for every step ahead. To ready me for where I sit now on an opposite coast, meeting complete strangers, and trying to lead two small children through the process as well. (Which, complete side note, my children are two of the bravest people I know. Everything is new for them, and they often face new Sunday class rooms, play dates, etc. alone, by themselves. I wonder what God is preparing their lives for......anyways...)

I faced all those fears and unknowns, all those "giants" head on. I might have tried to run, but I didn't.  I might have stumbled in my stance at times, but ultimately held my ground.  And every time, eventually, it took less and less prodding from my Jesus to AT that giant! Attack it head on in His name. He had already equipped me for victory. (Romans 8:37; 1 Samuel 17:34-37; 1 Corinthians 15:57)

And now, today, the process, the emotions, the feelings, the personal battles I've experienced are really still the same. What's changed is my relationship with the Lord and how He's taught me to wield the weapons He's provided. My Commander in Chief hasn't changed. The weapons available to me haven't changed. His work in and through those past circumstances have changed me. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

His faithfulness has changed me. His steadfastness has taught me to trust fall into Him--eyes closed or eyes wide open, doesn't matter. He's taught me to fight. He's taught me to run at my giants with full reliance in my Mighty God. (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

And I didn't even know that's what He was doing.

My whole life He's been teaching me how to be brave, so that one day when someone says I am brave, I can honestly say, "Not me. Only God. HE makes me brave."

So maybe you don't think you're brave either. Maybe there's some other compliment you've gotten lately that you think, 'Yeah right. That's totally NOT me.' Maybe it IS you. Maybe the picture of how you see yourself needs to grow and change and blossom into the picture of how God sees you. And maybe in that moment, when you hear that compliment, you need to take two seconds and acknowledge the One who has formed you over time into a person you probably only ever dreamed of being.

And if you're the person still dreaming,  hoping you'll be a brave soldier some day, someone who's fearless, someone who conquers giants, have no fear, my friend. He's been giving you or allowed giants your whole life you probably didn't know were giants. Some of them have probably defeated you at times, which is why you keep having to face them again and again and again. Some of them you have defeated before, which is why the next time you face them they seem bigger, stronger.

The key is to remember David. No matter how small you think you may be, how insignificant, God has equipped you in your lifetime to defeat your giant. Your giants. (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Remember your God. Remember what He has already done for you, accomplished in you, worked through you. (Psalm 77:11) Wield your weapons of the Spirit, of the Word, of prayer. Practice with them. Spar with them.(Philippians 4:9) Take out the lions and the bears in your path, then when the giants rise up and challenge your faith, challenge the name of your Mighty God in your life, then in the name of Jesus Christ you RUN at those giants!

Can't you just hear David's righteously indignant reply to Goliath?  Can't you see the fire in his eyes, the determination in his stance, and the holy fierceness with which He might just have boldly spat these words at his enemy:

“You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin (the weapons of this world)but I come to you in the name of theLord of hosts, THE God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you.(Do you hear his confidence? His trust?) And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, (there is a God in Jennifer's life and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s (it's already HIS--let that sink in...) and He will give you into our hands.” Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David RAN quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.  (1 Samuel 17:45-48 emphasis mine)

What giant is mocking you in your life? Is mocking your Great God, the God you love, the God who died for you? What giant dares to speak lies against you and against Him?  Do you recognize the lies? Do you burn with righteous anger against your enemy? (Psalm 119:78, 86)

Do you know what to do next?

You run. You run quickly. You pick up the weapons He has given you, and you trust fall into His greatness, and you count your own life as lost for His Name's sake (Philippians 3:8), and you run TOWARD your giant. No matter the outcome. You run. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ; Hebrews 12:1-3)

And what happens?  You BOTH get the victory, and HE gets all the glory.  That's just the way it works best for everyone.  We humans tend to be encumbered by pride after all.

So run your race toward your giants and be brave in the way God created you to be brave.  It looks different for everyone.  I bet if you sat and thought about it for a moment, you can remember some "moments" of your own life that were flashes-in-the-pan instances of bravery. But I pray you too will see that all those instances have made you into the brave person God designed you to be--a victorious, overcomer in the army of the Living God.

Go today, and be brave in His Name! Be victorious.
Psalm 20:7 "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God."

post signature

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Even Christians Have Bad Days

I wouldn't say the "other shoe dropped" or "it hit the fan" or any other silly euphemism that might be a little too dramatic, but last week was definitely a hard week.  I'm not going to blame it on any one thing in particular other than I lost too many battles last week--battles with my kids, my husband, our schedules, my hormones, my thoughts, etc. I felt alone, utterly alone. I felt my humanity.  My fleshly, worldly self was all too real last week.  I was wrapping my mind around all the things my six senses could process instead of the thousands of spiritual truths God has written on my spiritual mind and woven into my inmost being of who He says I am. (Psalm 139; Ephesians 1--"go-to" chapters for who God says I am in Christ.)

No, I just believed all the wrong voices last week.  I gave in, and I cried.  A LOT. I could probably still cry sitting here thinking about it. I was harsh with my children, with my husband, but mostly with myself. And it hurt.  Everything about where I am at this point in my journey in life just hurt, and I fully believed the lie that I was alone.  Completely alone. (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20)

And even now as I type this, I can feel the battle raging on the inside.  Half of me is still feeling like that lie is truth.  The other half of me, the half that clings to the feet of my Jesus and wields the Sword of the Spirit in His strength alone, that half is fighting the lie, and honestly, in this moment, it's a draw as to who's winning. (Hebrews 4:12)

And so rages the war of the follower of Christ. (Romans 7)  To be a Christ-follower, a true "Christian" for lack of a better term--even though I dislike that term because it's so flippantly used to describe a body of people that do not always fit the Biblical definition--but to be a true Christian in this worldly, fleshly body is to battle daily, moment by moment. (Ephesians 6:12)

Some days we are so filled with the spirit of Christ that we appear to be Mother Theresa--kind, loving, gentle, humble, full of joy and hope and faith.  On those days, the enemy doesn't stand a chance. (Romans 8:14)

On other days, this sinful flesh our soul calls home on this earth beats us to within an inch of our lives.(2 Corinthians 4:9) The difficulties of a sinful world driven by sin-caused circumstances allowed as natural outcomes by a Sovereign God who lovingly won't make choices for us, but also lovingly doesn't always hold back the consequences of those choices, these difficulties cause us hurt, pain, suffering, loneliness, etc. etc. etc! The list goes on and THE LIST IS THE SAME as those who want nothing to do with Christ in their life.

I think what non-believers miss in all their judgement of Christians being judgmental is we hurt too. We struggle too.  We get angry.  We make mistakes--big ones.  We wear masks.  We mess up.  And yes, we judge others when we shouldn't.  There is not one thing a non-believer experiences on this earth that a Christian does not also experience. We are all human.

We are ALL human.  ALL.  The same ALL that have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.(Romans 3:23) And the truth is, we will continue to fall short of God's glory ALL the days we live and breathe on this fallen earth in this fleshly body. Sin really screwed everything up.(Romans 8:22) There is nothing new under the sun.(Ecclesiastes 1:9)  God's plan for mankind hasn't changed since the beginning of time. (Genesis 3:15) What He has spoken in the Bible, well, some has already come to pass, some is currently coming to pass, and all of it will come to pass.  Mark His words, not mine. (Matthew 24:35)

So in the moment when you, child of God, are having a no good, horrible, very bad day, you've lost the battle, you feel like you're losing the war, remember that as a follower of Christ, as a true Christian, you have something/Someone, those who don't believe do not possess.  YOU HAVE CHRIST!

Jesus Christ!  He is the one thing that separates the lambs from the goats, the redeemed from the condemned.(Matthew 25:31-46)  Your personal relationship with Him is what makes you different; it's what sets you apart from the world.(Hebrews 10:10)  And as far as your bad day goes, Jesus Christ is the only thing that makes you, makes me, different from anyone else in this world, and by George, if He didn't experience some of the worst days of us all?!??!?!?!?  He was rejected by his home town, abandoned by those who loved him in time of need, tortured within an inch of His life before He was murdered under false charges. (Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)  Now those, those are some pretty bad days.  And He was the Christ.  Not a follower, He was God. (John 10:30)

And today, in the midst of your bad day, in the midst of my bad days, I remember that He IS the Christ. He IS God because He rose again.  On the third day, He rose again.(1 Corinthians 15:4)  And non-believers can scoff and say that I believe in a myth, a legend, that I base my life on the teachings of a "good" man, but He's the only man that's ever risen from the dead by His own power, and that's something. Believe it or not, that's something that no one else in history has ever claimed.

So that's something different. That's something amazing.  That's something that springs new hope in the driest of circumstances.  And if that's not enough, when you choose to grab a hold of that hope and actually believe that Jesus just might be the Someone or something missing from your life, and you start to believe, to have!  A whole new world opens up because faith moves mountains.(Matthew 17:20)  Faith is the foundation for trust. Faith shields you from the flaming arrows of the enemy.(Ephesians 6:16)  And then, in just a small mustard seed of faith you find what grows is love because faith is planted in, watered by, and grows out of love. True love.  The most powerful of all the fruits of the spirit because God IS Love. (Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:8)  He and Love are one and the same.  It is impossible to show true Love without showing other people God Himself.  (No wonder so many have such a twisted view of who God is.  We mess up showing His love all too often...) Faith, Hope, and Love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

They are powerful weapons in the arsenal of the Christian.  They are sadly too often misused.  Hence why non-believers have every reason to judge us for their misuse. Nevertheless, regardless of their misuse, in Christ, they are still ours to possess, to wield, to master. They cannot be fully possessed, wielded, or mastered by a non-believer.  I'm sorry.  That's just the way it is.  True Christians have the market on life-changing faith, hope, and love. In Christ alone, through Christ alone.  All these things do we possess! (Ephesians 1)

Everyone--but Christ alone--the world, the flesh, the enemy--they sell lies.  Fakes.  Ideas that feel like hope, that feel like faith, that feel like love.(John 10:10; John 8:44)  But Christ is not a feeling.  He is a Person.  He is God who walked this earth in human flesh over 2000 years ago. He is not a feeling.  If what you are currently clinging to is a feeling, you have bought the fake, my friend.  It's trade-in value at the end of time, at the end of your current struggle, is worthless. (Matthew 3:12)

No, my fellow Christians, the bad days will come.  They will.  We are all human.  Not until heaven will we escape the bad days.  And since Christ pretty much promised us suffering for His name's sake, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say we may even have more bad days than our non-believing earth.(2 Timothy 3:12)  But oh the joy of heaven!!!  Oh the joy of ETERNITY with our Christ in His home, our true home.  The faith and the hope and the love for and in our Savior is what gets us through the bad moments, days, weeks, seasons of life.  Cling to that.

Cling to the simpleness of Psalm 119:151: "You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth." 

Period.  Simple.  To the point. Truth.  Not a lie.  No fuss.  No defense needed.  No more beating yourself up. No condemnation for those in Christ. (Romans 8:1) We will all have hard times, bad days, life-altering horrible moments. We will cry.  A LOT. And our feelings will change and fluctuate and fail us, but in Christ, we have a fixed point, a True North, a Center that does not move, does not change, and for Whom it is impossible to lie.(Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 6:18)

So I think the next time I have a bad day, a bad week, a hard season, I think I might just wallow through my days repeating the phrase, "But I have Christ.  I have Christ.  I have Christ."  And I might mumble it under my breath.  I might take it for granted.  I might roll my eyes and sigh and struggle to live out that truth. But maybe by repeating those words over and over again, my feelings will eventually fall in line with Truth.  It might take a while, but that's ok because after all, I'm only human.

I guess what I'm coming to realize is bad days are inevitable no matter how deep into God's Word you dive.  I think there's a lie in Christian culture we believe that the closer you get to Christ in your walk with the Lord, the lesser the number of bad days you should experience. That lie is based on my own pride in thinking that I could ever get good enough, holy enough, close enough to God to deserve to not have a bad day. So for me, my bad days humble me.  They break me.  They send me kneeling back at the feet of my big, Gracious God, seeking for His help and strength and guidance.

Bad days keep me humble.  They expose my weaknesses.  They remind me that God is enough, and He is all I need to weather the storm. None of me.  All of Him.

So throw yourself a heaping lifeline of grace the next time you're having a bad day.  God's grace is for us all, and in His name--in the name of Jesus Christ--all those who believe in Him will have Hope! (Matthew 12:21)

post signature