Those Held in Slavery by Their Fear of Death

I am afraid to die.

Anyone else in my boat?

I know it’s not the correct thing for a growing Christian to admit. We have a wonderful Savior, the promise of a glorious future, a home in heaven with our Creator for eternity, what could there be to fear? But I am. Fearful, that is.

You see, my life story includes experiencing death first hand as a child. On Valentine’s night 1972, 11-year-old me sat at our kitchen table with Daddy, Mama, and my little brother. We were making Valentines for each other. It is a sweet memory. Three days later, after being admitted to the hospital for some pain, my dad suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack… He was there… Then he was gone.

I don’t understand the psychology of what that does to a child’s mind, but I do understand the ramifications of how those experiences are lived out as a child growing into adulthood. One of the results in me was a feeling of abandonment by my father. Loss so great that I had a physical feeling inside my chest of emptiness. From that time on I have grieved and feared and dreaded any and all death: family, friends, pets, relatives of friends (people that I don’t even know). Death impacts me deeply. It may do this to many people. I don’t know.

I don’t fear death because I don’t have faith of heaven to come or salvation. I fear death because I don’t want to experience that loss again. And I don’t want anyone I know to have to experience that feeling. I sometimes cry to think of what my family will feel like when I pass away; I cry for them and their loss and emptiness.

Recently I found myself in one of those normal stressful times of life where it seemed that each of my four children had something serious occurring in their life at that moment. None of their situations had anything to do with death or illness. Yet, through that time I found myself waking up in the middle of the night with anxious feelings of dread, feelings that stirred that fear of death within me and made me fretful for life.

Early one morning on my deck as I was doing my normal routine meeting with the Lord, I began to journal furiously. My watchword for this year has been surrender. It’s obvious I was not surrendering. I wrote that morning, “I must let go and turn my fears over God.”

That day Hebrews 2:14-15 came up in my Bible study. Now I’ve read the Bible through from cover to cover several times in my life, random years throughout my life and every year for the last 4 years, and I had never “seen” this verse before. Ever had that happen to you? It’s when something so relevant and so profound springs out from the Word of God in your reading and you are shocked how you could have ever missed it. Here’s what those verses say:

black-and-white-cemetery-christ-208315“He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of 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.” 

Jesus himself, by His death, not only saved me and broke the power of death that Satan has, but can free me from being enslaved to the fear of death!

The words overwhelmed me. My Father met me on my deck at that moment with a very specific word for my very specific situation. What hope! What relief! The Father had breathed these words into the author of Hebrews hundreds of years ago as he wrote the first manuscript. And today My Abba brought them to my attention the very moment I needed them!

That verse. That day. That sunny deck. My dark, fearful heart. All those things converged to cause the key to turn in the lock of my heart. The door inched open that day and a crack of light shone in. It has been almost 2 weeks now and my Father God is still holding my hand pulling me out of that dark place into growing freedom.

My childhood fear of loss may always shadow me as long as I walk this earth, but I have a Savior who died to set me free. Free from slavery to sin and free from slavery to my fear of death. Today I choose to walk in freedom, in hope. In the future, when fear rattles at my door and tries to shut me in and chain me up and enslave me, may I remember to claim my freedom from slavery and walk faithfully on.

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Construction Zone: Electrical Outlets

As long as I can remember I have been told to unplug a plug from an electrical outlet by holding on to the plug and gently pulling the plug from the outlet. That being said, my life doesn’t work that way. The only plugs that are gently unplugged are the ones that are in easy reach.

IMG_7344As I was packing my laptop computer recently, I wondered if I would need an electrical strip to give me extra distance for plugging my computer in. I forgot that we recently purchased a different type of electrical strip that the cord came from the side of the plug in the electrical socket instead of the top of the plug. I say that so that you will understand that when I pulled the electrical strip’s cord, it did not come out easily. I pulled with a little more strength and the plug came free along with the broken plate and broken socket. My husband was out of town, so when I called him early in the morning, his first response was not “Hello” it was “What’s wrong.” I told him what I had done and that I was afraid I was going to burn the house down. He assured me that everything would be ok and he could make repairs when he returned home.

Why is it that we do not heed the warning until it is too late? And then when we see the result of our action, we want someone to fix it so we do not reap the difficulty of our action. As a child I was told to come straight home from school (I lived in walking distance), don’t talk to strangers, and don’t get in a car with anyone I did not know. These warnings were to keep me safe from harm. My Mother wanted to be sure that I would be safe when I was alone or with friends.

sign-304093_1280.pngWhat warnings do we receive today? Don’t text and drive! Drive Safely! Observe Caution lights at railroad crossings. Do unto others….

God gives us warnings too. In James 1:19 He tells us to watch our tongue. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” In James 4:7 he warns us to “resist the devil” so that he will “flee from you.” We should heed the warning to confess our sins regularly. I John 1:9 ESV tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God also warns us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4:31

God gives us a warning to forgive others. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.” (Colossians 3:13) “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)

Our God is so good. He will forgive us when we do not heed his warning, but we may still have to suffer the consequence. How much easier life would be if we kept close to his word and did things right the first time.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

 

Dirt Digger

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God create mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27

 

In my kitchen, I have a sign that says, “Sometimes when I open my mouth my mother comes out.” It probably wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. The older I get, the more I find I sound like her. The older she gets the more she looks like her own mother.

“Mama guess what happened today while we were at Grandmother’s!”

My brain began to imagine all manner of scenarios and possibilities, an infinite number swirled through my head. Last time I had heard that statement they’d found a rodent skull and brought it to me for my approval. Like Carter and Carnarvon uncovering King Tut’s tomb, their exciting archaeological find was destined to change the world. At least that’s how they’d acted. So, when asked, all I could honestly say was, “I have no earthly idea. What?” Maggie, unable to contain her excitement and wait until I’d finished taking dinner from the oven spilled out a sentence that forced me to give a puzzled glance toward Mama. As I slipped off my oven mitts and carried on with the tasks of dinner prep, I learned that apparently not only did Mama’s small-town Alabama have a garden club, and in a somewhat stalkerish-like manner they combed the streets looking for yards to win their beautification award, but also, I was standing in the presence of their latest winner.

granny-1280445_1280“It’s really informal,” Mama said.

I giggled and Maggie proceeded to give, in detail, an account of how they’d been going about the day when the doorbell rang, and Mama had been presented with the award. I’m still a bit foggy on some parts of the ordeal, but it is perfectly clear to me why she won.

She loves the dirt. She likes to be outside. On any given occasion she can be found, sans shoes, clothed in overalls meandering about her yard with any number of garden implements. Her summer zinnias are breathtakingly beautiful. She will be the first to say being in the outside air is healing. I used to not believe or understand such a phenomenon until she proved me wrong.

Once I had the bad pneumonia. The can’t-shake-it-despite-big-meds-and-a-week-in-bed pneumonia. My kids were little and if it weren’t for an army of help I’m not sure they’d’ve survived my infirmity. I was ordered home to convalesce. It was January and it was cold out. Every day I talked to Mama and every day she’d said for me to go outside and get some fresh air. Every day I said ok and when we’d hang up I would roll over and go back to sleep. That was until she grew tired of my apathy and said: “Give the phone to Scott.” As I rolled over I heard him say, “Yes ma’am” and “ok bye” followed by dragging sounds indicative of moving stuff, opening and closing doors, dings of a microwave, and before I could say a word of protest he was dragging my pajama-clad self out to the front yard. He wrapped me in a quilt, shoved some warm hot toddy beverage in my hands and balcony-life-person-103127explained that I was to stay there “Cause your Mom said so.” By the end of the day, I’d taken a turn. I was finally on the road to recovery and the end of sickness could be seen. All because by proxy of my Husband I had obeyed her.

Now when I am sick, she doesn’t even have to ask, she knows I make my way to the outside to absorb and take in the healing of the sunshine and air. She’s often right, in fact, I’ve not really ever known her to be wrong that much. She’d beg to differ though because that’s just how she is. She is humble and kind, caring and loves unconditionally. She is easy to talk to and has an amazing sense of humor. She is artistic and talented, but again she’d beg to differ because she’s just like that. I have never known another quite like her and I hope and pray that there will come a time I am given the compliment that I act like my Mama.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Philippians 3:10

Surviving the Doldrums

Finding genuine contentment in the waiting place.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:12

When my kids were young my favorite family read-aloud book was a story about a discontented fisherman’s son. All he wanted was to get in his boat, catch a breeze, and sail as far away as he could. But every time he set out he got caught in the doldrums. He was neither moving forward or backward, he was just stagnant. Stuck.

I loved the book so much because I can completely relate to that feeling of stuck-ness. I often picture myself sitting in the middle of the ocean on my pieced-together, Huck Finn raft with my little tree limb mast and mainsail made of old bed sheet staring at the sky, waiting for the wind to move me along to my next destination. But the wind doesn’t come. And my discouragement grows as hot as the sun beating down on my face. There’s not a thing I can do to make the wind pick up and blow me ashore. I just have to wait. And waiting is hard.

At our house, we often call the doldrums the “in-betweens.” Those times in life you find yourself between where you’re leaving and where you’re going. That may be a major transition, say, moving off to college, or it may be something smaller, like a season of stillness between ending a season of active ministry and beginning another. Typically, before the doldrums, there’s a season of mountaintops and valleys when the Lord is showing Himself powerfully. You are awash with His goodness, feel His presence almost tangibly, and hear His voice loudly. But during those in-between times, those waiting times, those doldrums, especially if the waiting lasts for a long season, you find the voice of God grows muffled, and His presence is faint.

51bcvjaaq1l._sx373_bo1204203200_.jpgIn one of the lesser-known Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace arrive in Narnia and meet Aslan on a mountaintop. There Aslan gives them four specific instructions about finding the lost Prince Rilian. He then blows the two down into Narnia below, but gives them this warning, “Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly; I will not often do so in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care it does not confuse your mind. And the signs you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look when you meet them there. That is why is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

Aslan knew Jill and Eustace would face the doldrums, a stuck place, and they would need help to find their way back to the truth. In the waiting place, your mind can trick you into believing lies, about yourself and about your Father.

This season I’ve found myself in the deep throes of a nasty, despairing doldrum. I’ve found myself shouting my questions and frustrations to the stillness, “Who am I, Lord?” “Are you there Lord?” “Will you meet with me?” “I can’t do this.” “You can’t use me.” “I am inept and inadequate.” And I wait for His familiar whisper, and it doesn’t come. My heart aches and then I begin to recount what He’s told me so often on the mountain and in the valley. And I begin to take those steps that take me back to what I know:

Step 1: Examine My Heart. (2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 139:23-24) I ask the Lord to help me take a good, deep, honest look at my heart and mind. There may be a sinful habit or stinky attitude or some pervasive disobedience I need to bring under the authority of Christ. Repentance always brings restoration.

Step 2: Take the Next Step. (Psalm 37:34) When I am waiting on the Lord, I need to be sure I am seeking to keep His ways. Even, and most especially, if I don’t “feel” like reading my Bible. I read it. When I don’t “feel” like praying, I have to be honest and tell God how I’m feeling. When I don’t “feel” like meeting with that person or doing that Bible study. I do it. One step of obedience at a time. And that obedience is more times than not a serious struggle.

Step 3: Stand Firm on the Truth. (Ephesians 6:13-18) Here’s where faith becomes sight. In the doldrums I may not hear God’s voice clearly; I may not sense His presence, but I don’t have to have those things when I have the Word. I read it. I memorize it. I say it to myself over and over and over again. I can trust his instructions—even when the way is stagnant and foggy. Just as Aslan said, the way those instructions are walked out may not look like I expect (rarely do things turn out like we expect), but I can trust the Author is true to His Word.

Doing these steps while in the doldrums is tough. In the doldrums, apathy tends to want to invade your heart like Southern kudzu. You’ll have to fight to cut back those desires and inclinations of the flesh and find your way back to the truth. As Psalm 27:14 tells us waiting is not inactivity—even in the doldrums, your Abba is working on your behalf. To wait well in the doldrums takes supernatural strength and courage. And God is faithful. You keep seeking Him and one day you’ll find this powerful fresh wind of the Spirit comes and instead of your makeshift raft getting capsized, you’ll find the King has helped you build a sturdy vessel that can withstand the waiting.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

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In-Dependence Day

This 4th of July you’ll probably go to the lake or cook out, ski or swim or sit out in the lawn chairs and celebrate wholeheartedly the birthday of our nation. We Americans will enjoy patriotic music, watermelon, and fireworks as we think of the independence we have because of the fight for freedom back in 1776.

As children of God let us also celebrate our dependence.

Dependence on a loving Creator who provides not only our basic needs, but many things for us to cherish and enjoy.

Dependence on Jesus as our Savior and Rescuer. The knight in white armor riding to our rescue.

Dependence on Him for our future, not only our eternal home in heaven, but for our daily struggles tomorrow and the next day and the next…

Dependance on the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Teacher.

This word, dependence, is not a word we like. From a very young age we each chomp at the bit for independence. Freedom. But as we grow in Christ we learn that true freedom comes only through submitting our lives to Christ. In God’s world of paradoxes, the first is last, the servant is the greatest, the impossible is possible, and freedom comes in daily choosing death to our self-will. So today as you say a blessing over your barbecue and potato salad, whisper a prayer to your Father and offer up that independent spirit as a sacrifice, and begin to live “in dependence” on Your Abba.

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Leaves

5 Timely Tips for a Successful Time with the Lord

I love the colors of summer. Beautiful green leaves swaying in the breeze high in the trees is such an amazing sight. I love watching the green leaves change from the soft, tiny, yellow-green colors of Spring into the dark green colors of Summer.

Along with the beauty of these wonderful leaves on these tall, stately trees comes my problem. My satellite receiver for my television system is in the only spot it could be placed at my home. Between the satellite that is sending the signal from high above the earth to my personal satellite receiver are these beautiful leaves of summer. My television reception gets bad once the leaves start coming out in spring. Once the leaves satellite-dish-870328_1280are fully formed, my tv reception goes from bad to worse. There are some work arounds but for most television stations, I have very little or no reception. It is not easy to get the tree limbs out of the way. My trees are so tall and stately. There is no easy way to trim back the tops of these trees to get the tv signal through to my home receiver. Oh my! Such a major problem for just a few tv shows. Before you tell me to use cable, I live beyond cable. We are checking into other options but still have satellite tv at this point.

Is there anything that gets in the way of your relationship with the Lord? Just as the leaves get in the way of my satellite system, things can get in the way of our relationship with our Lord. Does your mind ever wander during your quiet time? Do the prayers that you are sending up ever get pixilated like a distorted tv signal?

How can you keep your relationship with the Lord strong like a perfect satellite signal?

1. Get rid of the distractions. Set aside a special time to be alone with the Lord. Protect that time. Make this a part of your daily routine.

2. Set aside a special place to have your quiet time. A special place is important so that    everything you need will be waiting for you.

3. Have a plan for your bible study. Knowing what you are going to study saves time from not having to figure out what you are going to read.

4. Have commentaries or study guides available to help you as you read the scriptures. I find that if I use my phone to do this, I often get distracted and do not make good use of my time. If I need to use my phone for a reference, I try to shut out anything else that is open on my phone.

5. Have a prayer list. When you tell someone you will pray for them, do you really pray? A list keeps these people prominent in your thoughts.

As you spend time with the Lord, remember to keep the signal uninterrupted with nothing in its way. Ask the Lord to help with this so that your time with the Lord is used to its fullest.

Mark 1:35 tells us “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Luke 6:12 says “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.”

Luke 5:16 says “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

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Don’t let anything get in the way!