Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Two interviews now live!

Talking about God's grace and His strength and promises nevers gets old :-)

Hope you can tune in now and here our interview on The Christian Author's Show -- it's automatically playing June 30 and July 1, but you can scroll to it on the list and listen afterward -- hope you enjoy!

And you can listen in here to our interview from June 21: Priceless Moments with Phyllis and Sandra on BlogTalk Radio -- see ya there!

God bless, karon :-)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of loss of control

Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41:12-13

I know we’re supposed to get wiser as we get older, and surely we do, but it’s a real kick in the gut to think you’re doing so well, being so wise, “taking control and in control” when life blows your work apart like a tornado and tears your scaffolding loose from the worksite and you think you might just die, right there with it.

We fight that experience and fear it with all we have – the great fear of loss of control. We fear it in our relationships, our jobs, our family life, just about everywhere, and we work hard to keep any threat to our progress at bay, strapping on the toolbelt extra tight and watching with the vigilance of a mother hen. Because we’re scared. Because we don’t trust God to be even more vigilant than we are. Because we think we’re in control in the first place.

Sure, we can control some things, and let’s not confuse control with responsibility – much in our lives needs our hand on it as we do our jobs, but our lives are not ours to control – that’s God’s job. And we can trust Him with it.

We might think God expects more of us, that giving up a death grip of control isn’t something He wants us to do, but giving all we are and all we see and all we do to Him seems to be a priority for Him. And I hope that together we can learn how to model our surrender to God for others and let them see our trust and calm and choice to continue to build where we are, even when circumstances aren’t what we like or can change at the moment.

The illusion of control is intoxicating, making us feel like we have everything buttoned up well and – because it’s a control we feel we achieve on our own – the thought of losing it is paralyzing. I should know because I’m the ultimate control freak, but when control of about everything except my breathing was wrenched from me in one breath, I had a lot of choices to make.

I had to know if I could practice what I’d preached to others. Sure, I’d been through stuff before – who hasn’t? – but the God-awful experience I’ve not escaped from yet has been the hardest test of all, the blueprint only God and I will figure out together.

I warned everyone about my struggles and God’s ironic timing with this book and tour, and while I can’t say any of the past year of my life has been easy, it’s taught me to relinquish this fear – and my illusion of control – forever, and that’s ok – because I know God’s promises remain. God’s words to Haggai [and the whole point of the book and what I hope you take away from this tour]: TRUST ME are all I really need to know.

When I don’t know anything, and believe me, in the darkest days of my current horror, I could barely put two words together, but when I could, those words were the ones echoing in my throbbing head, finding their way through the tears and pain: TRUST ME, He said. And so I have learned. I have faced this fear and lived through what I thought I couldn’t. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m still here, still building with everything I’ve got because He’s still here with me. There, that’s what I want you to know. That’s what I want you to do.

--when has your fear of loss of control overpowered you and kept you from living the kind of life you wanted?
--does [or has] your fear of loss of control kept you from trusting God the way you know He wants you to?
--what have you learned when you’ve had to face this fear because some situation ripped away your control?
--how would you live your life differently if you trusted God to control everything?

o ~ o ~o

Please visit June's Partner Blogger: Kristen at Hands, House, and Heart Full and join her as well as we explore this topic.

Read below or download the study of Joseph for yourself or your group.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.

From the book . . .

Chapter 24

Not seeing but believing

Remember when our story’s ancestors were following Moses out of Egypt and became afraid of the raging water and closing Egyptians? Moses had an answer for them, this reminder of God’s companionship when they felt forgotten.

He knew the people were scared, but he also knew God was with them, watching, preparing. He knew they had one job to do—to focus on the trust corner of the square. Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14). Moses knew, but he was as human as the rest of us.

And God was not without His wit, either. Was Moses’ own trust and faith slipping despite his words, maybe a little doubt seeping in like an ink stain on cotton? The next verses read: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:15-16).

Can’t you just read the love and patience on a litter of grace God threaded between those lines? He’s saying, “What’s wrong with you people? I said I’d take care of this and I will. Why are you asking Me about it again? Trust Me and do what I say, that’s all we need. I’ve got My corners of the square covered.”

And His did. We’re told that all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided (Exodus 14:21). Done, no sweat.

And yet, we go through this exercise over and over and over. That trusting part can be just as hard for us as it was for the water-crossers. We have a hard time letting go of that human part of us that wants to hold and touch everything that’s happening to know it’s real. We want to see a diagram of what God’s doing in our lives along with what He’s doing anywhere else that might concern us. Color-coded would be a plus. We want to know the answers and the methods and the outcomes of everything that frightens us or confuses us. We can’t.

We can’t live our lives that way because God didn’t design it that way. He planned for us to take hold of the spiritual part of us and put the human fears to rest. He planned for us to not know everything but to do the most important thing—to trust Him to know and do everything else. The square’s only a square when all four corners work together.

We wait in hope for the Lord’ he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
Psalm 33:20-22

Dreaming Jesus

The dream I remember most still lives in me, revisited often when fear comes calling.

My eyes opened all the way when I woke up, searching the dawn for clues to my heartbeat echo in the quiet. The dream unfurled in my mind like one of those cartoon flip books you flutter really fast to make the figures move. Then I interrupted the show and inspected the scenes frame-by-frame, determined to discover every detail and miss nothing.

As if I had settled myself to pull the stubborn morning glories from my squash patch, I could feel the slick marble of the bank’s floor on my bare knees. My warm hands hid my face like a game of pee-pie with a toddler, but the threat standing over me yelled orders and shook a black handgun at us both. The lady next to me whimpered in her weed-pulling stance and seemed sure of waking up dead tomorrow. I knew she was no help.

Not content to only yell at us, the robber poked me on the head with the nose of the gun barrel. It hit me hard and I began to think the lady next to me was right. But his yelling began to fade because of the focus taking over my mind, like a Times Square ticker you have to read to the end: “Whether I live or die, I belong to the Lord” (from Romans 14:8). I followed the words as they trotted through my head, over and over, bringing a breath, finally, and sending my fear and the man’s screams farther and farther away.

Slowly I peeked through the cracks between my fingers, and what I saw allowed me to drop my hands and defy the grip terror had on my heart. Jesus stood before me, too far away to touch but close enough to feel. His eyes rested on me the whole time, and I could tell He was unafraid of anything, and He wanted to give that gift to me.

He smiled at me, directly at me, and without a word, He said He was still in control, loved me without condition, and brings His peace—unmatched and all I need no matter what threat is poking me in the head. Maybe the robber saw Him, too, because he seemed aggravated but unable to do anything about it. He hurried away, leaving me and the lady there on the floor. After I woke up, I wondered what she had seen.

Read below or download the study of Joseph for yourself or your group.

A brief study of Joseph

Find Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-45.

Jacob loved his son Joseph deeply, more than he loved his other sons and they knew it. They were jealous and plotted to get rid of him. They dropped him in a pit, then sold him to a band of Midianite traders from Gilead and faked his death. The traders carried Joseph to Egypt and resold him to Potiphar, an Egyptian officer and captain of the guard for Pharaoh.

Wow, talk about a loss of control.

But the tragic events didn’t knock Joseph off his ladder. Somehow, someway, despite the circumstances that got him there, in a foreign land subject to another’s law, with no family and no idea of what was to become of him, he continued to build. He continued to trust in a God greater than the jobsite he couldn’t begin to control. So he worked with what he had. And God saw.

The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. [Genesis 39:2]

Sounds like things were looking up for Joseph, and perhaps he even felt in control of his life a bit again. If so, did the thought of losing that control become a fear because he began to trust in his own power and not be so dependent on God?

Was Joseph holding so tightly to everything he thought he controlled than the fear of losing it dictated every measured swing of his hammer? Probably not, but we can certainly get there sometimes, so convinced that we’ve mastered what we see and so afraid of it wiggling out of our grip like a box of nails knocked to the ground.

Joseph had reason to fear, but it’s easy to doubt that he did. When Potiphar’s wife propositioned him, he refused, so she accused him of improper advances, and Potiphar put him in prison. Through no fault of his own and when he was entrusted with everything Potiphar had [except his wife, of course], Joseph’s control again was ripped from him. He kept his trust and we begin to hear a familiar response from God.

But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed [39:21, 23].

One example of Joseph’s success was his correct interpretation of a dream for the Pharaoh’s cupbearer [a trusted servant]. In return, Joseph asked for help in getting out of prison. Perhaps he thought he’d regained a little control.

Pharoah’s chief cupbearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought. Two full years later . . . [40:23-41:1]

Wow, we know that kind of revolting development, as the saying goes. We know what it’s like to do everything we can and still not get where we want to go. We know what it’s like to see what we planned fall apart and hope disintegrate and despair set in. We know it well and maybe that’s why we hold on so tightly and fear that loss of control we think we’ve gained again. But God still knows more. Imagine that.

We don’t know much about those two years Joseph remained in prison, but clearly he was unafraid. He no doubt kept building, climbing as high as the circumstances would allow for the time, making where he was a reflection of God Himself.

Soon, Pharaoh asked Joseph to interpret some dreams, and he did. He guided Pharaoh with good advice, building where he was. And Pharaoh responded.

“Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God? Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders” [41:38-40].

God planned it, he built it.

From starting to build in a pit in the desert to being put in charge of “the whole land of Egypt” [41:41], Joseph never lost his trust in God. Despite all the setbacks and injustices and everyone around him seeming to take his control away, we’re never told he was afraid.

Instead, Joseph used his time and resources wisely – something every builder must do. He made the most of every opportunity without giving up on God to be in control of everything he couldn’t see. And he stayed on that ladder no matter what, and because of that, we remember him today.

Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will life a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval” [41:44].

Now that’s control as our world would see it, but we can trust that Joseph knew Who was truly in control, because we know where he’d placed his trust, beginning to end.

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~ o

How will you become like Joseph and resolve to live and build today, even with little or no control?

How will you keep your trust in God instead of being afraid that He’s not with you?

How will you reflect God to those around you even in difficult circumstances?

o ~ o ~ o

Download this study of Joseph in pdf for easy printing for yourself or your group: Go here.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of rejection

Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41:12-13

I don’t know how prevalent the fear of rejection is, but based on just what I’ve witnessed myself, it’s massive. Maybe it’s because we quite often try to be “people pleasers” and make everyone else happy at all costs. While there’s nothing wrong with being accommodating and thoughtful, what can happen is that we end up being too agreeable and are easily taken advantage of in an effort to be liked and accepted. And then it gets worse.

Sometimes we just never even attempt anything of our own or dare to dream our own dreams so that we won’t upset anyone else’s life or have to face criticism or rejection. It may seem like an easier life, but it’s never what God intends. Living with a fear of rejection means living a stunted, cluttered life – like a half-built house given way to the elements, overgrown grasses and condemned notices tacked on its splintered door facings. It’s a life unlived.

God doesn’t deal in rejection the way we see it—He doesn’t require perfection in our efforts or success in the world every time we venture out. We often make those requirements of ourselves, though, so afraid of being turned away or turned down, so fearful of being who we are because we think that isn’t enough. God knows something else. He knows that what makes us acceptable to Him is our willingness to live with Him in charge. Then rejection isn’t an issue—it’s all about reflection instead.

We accept God’s acceptance—trusting Him to never reject us and always lead us. And we reflect Him and His grace, forgiveness, generosity, care, everything in every effort we make. And in the security of God’s love and acceptance, we find purpose in all we do—it’s about reflecting Him the best we can [and we learn better every day, He’s a patient teacher] and leaving the worry and fear behind.

That means being a “God pleaser” instead of a “people pleaser” – being willing to risk rejection and overcome the setbacks because He’s still guiding us to our goals.

Rejection by those we love or hope to impress hurts, but it helps to remember that in all of that pain or sadness, God has a plan. He has a plan better than the one we see and we can only be a part of it if we continue to build. Wherever we’ve met shut doors and failed ideas, we look for what’s facing us when we turn away from the rejection. God’s still there, so our security is still there. And if we’re still here, we’ve still got a purpose that God will protect, no matter how often we feel like a letter with the wrong address on it.

There’s no rejection when we’re building what God’s said build. And today it may only be one nail in a whole big wall – one effort to reach out to someone and risk a rejection – but it’s enough if it’s what God asks today. Overcoming fears usually isn’t about one big, giant impressive act, but all those steady, small, one-to-one efforts made in trust that become scaffolding on which we stand to build a bigger temple.

-what in the past has caused you to fear rejection? What pain do you still carry from times of rejection that impact your behavior today?
-when have you overcome the fear of rejection to do what you wanted or needed to do, or what’s going on in your life right now that asks that of you?

o ~ o ~o

Please visit May's Partner Blogger: Terry at Breathing Grace and join her as well as we explore this topic.

Read below or download the study of Moses for yourself or your group.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.

From the book . . .

Chapter 16

Rejection fear

Let me see . . . I’m guessing everything you do is completely accepted and loved by those around you. Others pay homage to your every word and deed, never uttering a critical peep. Ahhh . . . bliss. No? Really?
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:23-24

Rejection certainly isn’t pleasant, and I’m not sure it’s the most spiritual way to learn what our work is all about, but it’s effective. I know, because I can take anything now. That happens when your work (which is really you, and those who would criticize seem to consider that connection as meaningless as the dining habits of a snail) is rejected and criticized and denied with the regularity of the moon phases. Happens to me all the time.

And never one to miss an opportunity, my Architect and I have built a whole wing of my temple on that rejection. It’s taken a while—a painful while—but God’s a patient builder. Pity He’s had to make such an elaborate addition to my life here, but I suppose it has its benefits. Got a problem with rejection? I can help you with that.

I was once greatly afraid of an editor’s criticism, but too many instances of that (thank you, Lord—I’m practicing gratitude in “everything,” work with me here) and the fear that made me want to take my ladder down, dismantle and hide it has morphed into something else. It’s become safety glass to the erratic nail gun of my life. I still feel disappointed and convicted, but now unafraid to face what comes. That’s how we deal with the “disapproval” of men. We take it like a revision to the blueprint and see where it goes—constantly holding God’s plumb line to it.

Does He agree with someone else’s criticism? If so, what have I missed and how can I find it? How can my next steps lead me closer to His approval if I’ve wandered off course? Is my motive pure and does my work reflect His grace? Others’ voices help me double-check what I’m hearing from God, and then He’s the only one I listen to. That’s why the rejection becomes more mortar than chisel. It’s just part of the process.

I talked to a friend the other day about a relationship I’d tried to cultivate with a mutual acquaintance. Nothing worked. I’d sent gifts and cards, invited her for coffee, offered friendship—nothing. Zip. Zero response. Before she had me arrested for stalking, I said ok, enough, I’ll move on. My friend who loves me reacted to my story with a protective bent.

“It’s all right,” I told her. “I take rejection well.” And it was true. Not always, but in most cases, now I can respond when someone says no in a more grown-up way, looking to God for guidance and trying to measure His pleasure with my efforts. That keeps me building, able to reach out to others and risk the rejection again, able to write more words and risk the rejection again, able to face roomfuls of expectant faces and risk the rejection again. It’s the finished floor beneath me that holds me steady so that I can try again. And given my record, that’s a pretty thick floor.

The fear of rejection is hard to kill, like one of those psychotic, axe-wielding villains in the basement of a teen horror movie. The Hebrews didn’t want to be rejected and ridiculed by those around them, so they chose to face the disapproval of God. Maybe you have some of those situations around you today, making it easier to dig in the dirt than step up a little higher. That’s why God sends helpers.

Every jobsite has a foreman in charge and a lot of helpers—those who can’t do your building for you but who can help. They can read blueprints, gather supplies, measure boards, sharpen tools. God sends them to you, so look out for the helpers at your jobsite. Learn from them by taking advantage of the lessons they’ve already learned, by watching how they face their fears and stay on the ladder despite swinging in the wind.

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
Psalm 28:6-7

And if your critics crash your party, let me help you with that. That’s part of why we’re here, now, meeting in this book. I pray when we’re done that you’re more able to stand tall and unafraid upon your ladder, trusting God and claiming His promises no matter what anybody else says or does. The best is yet to be, one rung at a time. Let us be helpers to each other.

Stalled, fearing the impossible on your to-do list? Can’t you just see Moses after conversing with God at the world’s original bonfire, hear the soft thud of the heel of his palm against the side of his tilted head, the confusion and fear drawing wrinkles on his brow? But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:11-12). When God makes our to-do list, He never needs an eraser, because He knows what we have and what we don’t, and what we have is plenty, because it’s Him. Who am I, who are you to do His will? We’re who He’s chosen. He still promises He’s with you.

Read below or download the study of Moses for yourself or your group.

A brief study of Moses

Our focus on Moses is found in Exodus 3 and 4

Chosen by God for one of the most important jobs ever, Moses hesitated, resisted, even argued with God about it because he feared the reactions from those around him. Chosen by God for an important job, you and I can do the same. We can sometimes let the fear of rejection and failure and everything we lack blind us to the amazing opportunities God’s organized and placed before us. Just call us Moses.

God had a plan and He needed an earthling to carry it out. No problem, got just the guy in mind, He must have thought.

“Now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt,” God told Moses from the bush on fire [Exodus 3:10]

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” [3:11]

Huh? God tells Moses the plan and he balks at it? There we are again.

But God answered, “I will be with you.” [3:12]

I love that answer. It’s the one God speaks to us and the one we should hear more loudly than all the doubts and fears bouncing around in our heads every time a new venture appears to challenge us.

But before we can even study the terrain of the holy ground on which we stand when God says build, we get ahead of Him, spying the jagged stones that would trip us up, measuring the chunks of mountain in our way. And we focus extra attention on the living, breathing complications of our lives that might resist or criticize our work, fearing rejection and leaving God’s plan to burn away.

Our building today will be different from what God designed for Moses, but the same opposition often remains – and so does God’s response to our fear. He sees the finished product long before we can even begin, no doubt quite satisfied with His choice even when we wonder if He’s made a mistake.

God sent Moses to “all the elders of Israel” to tell them about their deliverance and the miracles to come to free them from the Egyptians. God’s pointing the way on His blueprints, but Moses is still afraid, seeing rejection instead of divine direction.

But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” [4:1]

Now thinking through the obstacles we may face in our work isn’t a bad idea, but allowing those obstacles to override God’s plan is. His promise to be with Moses [and us] in our building provides the foundation we need to deal with those interruptions, delays and even rejections by those around us. When Moses went on and on about his reservations, God even gave him three signs to prove His plan was a good one [Exodus 4:2-9].

And yet, that strong fear of rejection continued to plague Moses despite God’s presence and reassurance.

But Moses pleased with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” [4:10]

God explained that He was in charge of who speaks, hears and sees. “Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” [4:12]

You’d think that would have been enough. If God is going to hold our hands and guide our tongues, what more do we need? While I wouldn’t turn down a notarized guarantee and signed pledges of agreement from all those around me when I embark on a new project, I’ve yet to have that happen with anything I’ve tried to build.

And I’ve certainly talked myself out of grand possibilities plenty of times because I could only see the plan not happening, imagining all rejection and no progress. Moses was a master at finding excuses to avoid the risk too.

But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”

Then the Lord became angry with Moses
[4:13-14], perhaps even disappointed that His choice couldn’t trust His judgment. And for a moment, perhaps the great plan was in jeopardy? I doubt it, but I do wonder how many of our lesser plans God has juggled because of our protests and fears.

Perhaps like Moses, we fail to recognize all we do have to help us with our part of God’s plans. We don’t take inventory of our resources and build on everything God’s taught us in the past. We’re slow to believe in what God sees and even slower to trust Him to provide what we can’t for the build.

But God continues to work around our shortcomings just as He did for Moses. And true to His forgiving and caring nature, He forgave Moses his doubts and pointed out the help He had provided.

“What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.”
[4:14-15] And so He did.

God never even entertains the idea that Moses will face so much rejection that he’ll fail to complete the job he’s been chosen for. He just continues to answer Moses’ resistance with support and promises of His presence. And Moses overcomes his fear with security and purpose.

God planned it, he built it.

God never doubts His choice of a weak and fearful earthling to build something mighty and everlasting. He just builds on the shaky human strength there so that Moses can climb up on his ladder with confidence and trust.

Surely Moses wanted to be what God could already see, but he was afraid. And that’s us too – wanting to be and grow and build and touch everything God already sees for us, but battling those same fears as old as the desert. Moses carried them to God and strapped on his toolbelt. That’s a pretty good plan for us too.

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~ o

How will you focus on God’s level of acceptance instead of everyone else’s? [hint: if you’re willing, He wants you.]

What resources have you failed to recognize to help you in your building? Factor them all in as you work on your plan for which God’s chosen you.

What are you arguing with God about right now, giving in to the fears instead of trusting in His control?

o ~ o ~ o

Download this study of Moses in pdf for easy printing for yourself or your group: Go here.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.