Tag Archives: Assurance

Public Fear; Personal Assurance

It has been fascinating for me to watch the post-election panic and fearful protests on the streets of many American cities since the election. Fear leads us to behave in interesting ways, as it has throughout human history. People are people, and the fearful residents of Jerusalem c. 701 B.C. are also displaying their fear in public ways.

Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,

    no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
    its witnesses are despised,
    no one is respected.
Isaiah 33:7-8 (NIV)

The fear in Jerusalem is well justified. The dreaded army of the regional superpower, Assyria, has swept through the north and is now moving on Jerusalem. It is a large army well-trained, well-equipped, and battle hardened. It is an army unlike anything the people of Jerusalem have ever faced. The Assyrian army’s reputation for destruction, violence, and brutality has preceded them.  It is no wonder that order is giving way to fearful chaos on the streets of Jerusalem.

It is always darkest before the day dawns, it has been often said. That is the overarching theme of Isaiah’s message in today’s chapter. In darkness we tend to grasp for light. If the power goes out we seek flashlights and candles, when things get spiritually dark we reach for God. The ancient seer describes the fear of Assyria leading the people to repent and call on God for deliverance, and he then promises that deliverance.

Jerusalem will not fall to Assyria, Isaiah proclaims, though it will not be delivered by human effort:

Your rigging hangs loose:
    The mast is not held secure,
    the sail is not spread.
Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
    and even the lame will carry off plunder.

A wealth of plunder and spoils, but not from anything the people of Judah have traded for. The word picture is of a trade ship that has sailed no where. So where will the all the spoil and plunder come from? God is going to deliver it personally. God will deliver the people of Judah from the Assyrians.

This morning I am thinking about how Isaiah’s message was received by his family, friends and neighbors who were shaking in fear. I have a hard time believing that it was accepted heartily. I doubt that it provided many with comfort and assurance. Rampant fear is not so easily assuaged, as current events bear witness.

Nevertheless, I look back on my life’s journey and recall many times of corporate fear. As a child I learned to duck and cover from a Soviet nuclear strike, and as an adult I watched friends and family stockpile gold, guns and supplies for the apocalypse that was feared with the new millennium and the Y2K virus.

I understand that some threats are real and some fears are justified. Still, if I am truly a follower of Jesus, then my heart tells me that Jesus’ personal teaching should always trump public fear:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:33 (MSG)

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The Undeniable Reality of Change

Though hail flattens the forest
    and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
    sowing your seed by every stream,
    and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.
Isaiah 32:19-20 (NIV)

Things change. It’s an undeniable part of life’s journey.

Sometimes the change is subtle. A sailboat’s point-of-sail can change a seemingly imperceptible degree or two on the compass, but that change will ultimately take the boat to a completely different destination.

Sometimes the change is dramatic. Tectonic plates shift beneath my feet, shaking me to the very core of my being. Complacency is replaced by confusion. The familiar is replaced by fear. Forget the notion of a degree’s difference. I can’t seem to find my bearing at all.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah sends the message loud and clear: Get ready for things to change.

“…you who feel secure will tremble

The fortress will be abandoned,
    the noisy city deserted;
citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever.”

But the change isn’t an end. Change is a waypoint in the journey. Change is the process through which complacency is transformed into commitment. Fear is metamorphosed into faith. Anxiety is redeemed by assurance.

The ancient prophet doesn’t end with doom and destruction. Amidst the change, he says, “the Spirit is poured on us from on high.” Change is not the end. It’s just a waypoint in the journey propelling us to a place of hope:

“Though hail flattens the forest
    and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
    sowing your seed by every stream,
    and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.”

This morning I’m remembering changes I have experienced, both subtle and dramatic. I’m recounting the lessons I have learned moving through those waypoints. I am recognizing the good things I have learned; the good place I find myself this morning.

Things change. It’s an undeniable part of life’s journey. It means I am in process. Life is in motion. I am being propelled further up and further in. Change is a good thing if I am willing to accept it. As Isaiah pleads with me with morning:

“...rise up and listen…

…hear what I have to say.”

 

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Be Strong and Courageous

“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

Wendy and I drove home from the lake yesterday. It was Sunday morning and we obviously were not going to make it to worship, so we pulled up the audio of last week’s message from our local group of Jesus’ followers. Tim Heerma did a great job with the message and, at one point, he spoke about fears and how they keep us from doing what we’re supposed to be doing. “If you are focused on your fears,” he said (I’m paraphrasing) “you will bury your talent.” Wendy and I both gave an impromptu, “Wow” at that moment. Tim’s point landed with impact on us.

After listening to the entire message, Wendy and I spent a good bit of time talking. Out of our conversation came the recognition that fear and anxiety are two of evil’s most commonly used (and effective) weapons against any who would endeavor to do what God has purposed. Jesus repeatedly said to his followers “do not be afraid.”

Our discussion then meandered down a conversational path in which Wendy shared some of her current anxieties. “I keep asking God for some assurance,” she said regarding one of the things we’ve felt God purpose for us, “but it’s not coming.” The result, I observed, were questions, doubts, fears, and anxiety about long-term consequences.

We then spent some time having a conversation with God and reminiscing all of the amazing ways we’ve been led right to where we find ourselves on life’s road. We looked back and recounted some of the unbelievable experiences of God’s prompting, guidance and provision that dot the path behind us. We recommitted ourselves to trusting God for whatever was necessary to play out the roles and purposes to which we’ve been called.

Ironically, we begin this morning at the start of the story of Joshua. Joshua and the people of Israel find themselves standing at a crossroads before the River Jordan. God is calling them to cross the river and take possession of the land. Like a coach in the locker room before the big game, God gives the newly appointed leader, Joshua, a much-needed pep-talk. What Joshua has been purposed to do is a huge task that will require generous doses of active faith. The enemy’s defensive strategy comes from a well-worn and effective playbook: fear and anxiety.

Four times God says to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” Strength will be required to overcome the onslaught of fear which will be unleashed against him. Courage will be necessary to relinquish the doubts and anxieties that will most assuredly flank the fear.

This morning, I am thinking about Wendy and me standing at our own version of the Jordan River and the purposes to which we, like Joshua, are called. I am recalling all of the fears and anxieties we discussed yesterday. As I read God’s pep-talk to Joshua, I am hearing God whisper: “This is for you, too. It is as much for you as it was for Josh. Be strong and courageous.”

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Embrace the Mystery of the Moment

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:7 (NRSV)

There was a lot that Jesus’ followers did not understand. It is a subtle, but recurring theme in John’s biography of Jesus:

  • Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
  • They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.
  • Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
  • Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
  • His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Along my life journey I’ve discovered that I almost always desire clarity and understanding, but it quite regularly eludes me in the moment and in my immediate circumstances. It is only when I reach a waypoint down the road that I look back and perceive with clarity and understanding how God was at work around me, in me, and through me. I have come to accept that there are some things that will continue to elude me until my journey is over and I am safe at home.

At least I’m not alone. I take heart today in the realization that Jesus’ best friends and closest followers on this earth were perplexed in the moment, too. Being physically present with Jesus and hearing His every word, they still didn’t get it until further on down the road. Maybe it’s time for me to cut myself a little slack.

I’m reminded that this life journey is, for me, a faith journey. I will rarely have clarity and understanding in the moment. I am, however, assured of the hope that God will complete His good work in me. Having looked back at how He has brought me to this point, and all that He has faithfully accomplished thus far, it is evident that I can trust that my present circumstances are part of the plan.

You do not know now what I am doing,” Jesus says to His followers, “but later you will understand.”

Indeed.

So, go with it. Trust. Have faith.

Embrace the mystery of the moment.

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featured image by odreamer via Flickr

Calm Assurance in Stormy Seas

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.  Acts 27:33-36 (NRSV)

I grew up on the water, and as a boy I wanted nothing more than to be a sailor. There was a period of my childhood, around the age of nine, that I wore a sailor hat all of the time. My mother still jokes about finding me asleep in bed with my sailor hat on and jumping into the pool forgetting it was still on my head.

Our summer vacation every year was two weeks on Rainy Lake which lies on the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. It’s a large lake and our daily fishing excursion normally entailed a long trip in our rented john boat across a vast expanse of open water. When storms came up, the white caps could swell to decent heights. It could definitely make the trip back to camp in our small boat a rather frightening affair for a small kid.

I can remember as a young boy paying attention to my dad during those seemingly endless trips in stormy waters. If dad was calm as the boat rocked and rolled, if I looked back at dad and received a “Isn’t this fun?” smile, then I knew everything was going to be okay.

I thought about those moments this morning as I read the chapter and imagined being on board the ship with Paul and Dr. Luke as their small ship was mercilessly pounded by a raging storm for two entire weeks. The fear and mental weariness among passengers and crew had to have been immeasurable. And then Paul speaks with faith and assurance. He smiles, and encourages them. “Take some food. Be strong. Don’t be afraid. Everything is going to be okay. We’re all going to make it through this.”

This morning I’m thankful for parents who comforted me as a child in stormy times. I’m thankful for teachers, counselors, mentors and friends who walked with me through various difficult stretches of life’s journey and gave me the encouragement I needed to weather the storm. I’m praying today that I might return the favor to those in my sphere of influence who face their own frightening storm clouds and the gusty winds of life change.

“I’ve Got This”

new house foundation

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

I am up early after a fitful night’s sleep. As I write this post, summer is making its annual transition into the hectic pace of autumn. All around me, life is in transition. One of our daughters is in the midst of vocational transition, moving across the country this morning, and still uncertain where she is going to live. Our other daughter is packing up her worldly possessions, preparing to move across the ocean, and making a major investment in her education. Wendy’s sister, who has lived with us for the past year, is in the throes of that bumpy transition from youth to adulthood complete with the upheaval of routines, relationships and emotions that accompany it. My parents are in transition with the concerns of life and health as their life journey takes an unexpected twist in the road. This past weekend Wendy and I looked out over the newly poured foundation of the house we are building; A project that wasn’t even on our radar six months ago.

I have, for many years, made this chapter-a-day routine part of my daily life journey. One of the reasons for this habit is the regular experience I have of God meeting me right where I am in the moment, speaking to me in my need from the words in that day’s chapter. This morning is a perfect example

Worry was my bedfellow this past night; Anxiety my companion. Sitting red-eyed in the empty hotel lobby with my first cup of coffee I open my laptop, pull up today’s chapter, and silently enter into an intimate give and take with the Creator. Jesus says:

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Don’t worry,” I hear Him quietly add to my spirit as I finish reading. “I’ve got this.”

Assurance for “a Dangerous Business”

United FlightThe Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121:7-8 (NIV)

Compared to passionate travelers and corporate road warriors, this wayfaring stranger is a relative lightweight. Yes, my parents claim never know where I am on any given day, friends joke with me about my regular business travels, and Wendy and I think we’re apart, way, way, way too much. Despite my closing in on a half-million lifetime miles with United and my pocket full of rewards memberships, however, I am usually 28th on the list of 34 people on my flight’s upgrade list. I keep an annual eye on my status with both United and Marriott just to make sure I get the few meager perks they dish out to travelers like me so as to make road trips a tad bit easier.

When I’m on the road and away from home, there are always thoughts of safety and making it home in one piece. Whenever I take off on a trip, Bilbo’s words to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings always flit through my head:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

As I sit in my hotel room a thousand miles from home this morning and look forward to tomorrow’s return trip , I deeply appreciated the lyrics of today’s psalm. Mired somewhere between being a homebody and a road warrior, it’s wonderful to have the assurance of God vigilantly watching over me.

 

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