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.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of loss

"I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
Isaiah 46:4

This fear may be more prevalent now than in quite some time. So many of us or those we know are fearing a loss of a job or a home or the life we’ve led before. It’s easy to panic and worry and practically stop any building of any kind. But we don’t have to let this fear knock us off the ladder, because we can rest instead in this opportunity for grace to surround us like sunshine when there’s much work to do.

Sometimes the fear of a loss -- not even the loss itself -- can confuse our thinking and cause us to make poor choices. We can retreat, second-guess ourselves, refuse to trust God, and lose all faith in His provision and care. We forget the grace He supplies to meet this fear.

Fearing a loss won’t stop the loss -- unless of course it causes us to address and change some damaging behavior. Decide if that’s possible in your case and put a plan into effect to help yourself [for example, if you’re habitually late for work and afraid you’ll lose your job because of it, don’t be late. I know that may be a silly example, but you get the idea.], and it can work because of God’s grace that surrounds us like sunshine and energy when the to-do list is long and time is short.

Whether we’re afraid of losing something as real as a job or as hard to grasp as someone’s approval, too often -- before we rest in God’s grace -- we can be untrue to who we are. We might do something that’s stupid or a waste of time when we could do something else – build.

God’s presence and grace gives us a strategy to grip the ladder when we’re staring a loss in the face and wondering how to deal with it. We can honestly assess the situation before us, make smart choices, and continue to live as God’s directing us. He may not reveal the whole building plan to us all at once, but He’ll guide us with work to do today and then tomorrow. Our work that’s true to Him will replace the fear. Let’s take a quick look at each part of the strategy.

*We can honestly assess the situation before us. Often we fear what we don’t know, so it’s important to get as much information about the situation you’re afraid of that you can. Over-reaction, quick moves, careless words – all that just makes things worse. Ignoring a potentially serious situation with a head-in-the-sand attitude isn’t being honest about your life either. Know as much as you can about what you fear, then deal with it—smartly—and securely because you know you’re not alone.

*We can make smart choices. We can do the getting-to-work-on-time thing. We can do the work that’s required of us. We can keep promises or commitments. But perhaps more important than any of that, we can keep our minds focused on who we are in God’s plan -- not worry about what He’s no doubt already figured out anyway. I know that sounds simplistic and even patronizing, but the point is that the first smart choice we make every day when we’re fearing a loss is to choose God over the fear we feel, to receive His grace for that day, even for that moment, and reflect Him in the next thing we do.

*We can continue to live as God’s directing us -- doing as Peter himself advised: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you [1 Peter 5:7]. We can build on the wall in front of us, one brick at a time. We can talk to Him frequently and listen to His guidance. We can remember everything He’s taught us, draw on the strength His presence provides, and we can walk through each day in trust -- that’s really all He asks. And if we do that, trust and obey without fear, we will build with His provision and care —- just like He planned all along ~~
because this opportunity for grace to surround us like sunshine when there’s much work to do is an opportunity we don’t want to miss.

- What are you afraid you’ll lose – a job, financial security, career opportunities, love, esteem? How have you faced any of those losses in the past and overcome them?
- How has the fear affected your relationship with God?
- What about your potential loss frightens you so? Is it because you feel alone or forgotten by God? How do you think God sees your fear?

o ~ o ~o

Please visit April's Partner Blogger: Tammy at My Heart . . . His words and join her as well as we explore this topic.

You can read below or download the study of Peter 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 15

Now and later

We read about Moses leading the Israelites of his time (our story’s ancestors) out of Egypt and all the challenges they encountered. They were free! Released from the bonds of a tyrant, free to travel to a land promised by their God! How could they be anything but courageous and joyful! Oh, how indeed.

When everything didn’t go to suit them or wasn’t particularly comfortable, they fed off each other’s complaints, squeezed God out of their hearts, and gave in to the fear of the unknown. As the Hebrews were running from their Egyptian masters, the pursuers got close. The pursued got scared.

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
Exodus 14:10

Now that crying out part make sense to us, and their action -- their turning to God for help -- must have even pleased Him. He could understand a momentary heart-stop because they had been captive a long time, and they didn’t have a Power Point presentation or website to tell them what lay ahead in the land of freedom. But it’s the next verse that’s so funny -- and so telling about our human nature that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. When has our own sarcastic streak ridden in on a racehorse of fear? Wonder if God smiled?

The Israelites speak to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11)

Well, there’s a Mt. Sinai’s worth of negative thinking and a heart empty of trust and worship. Apparently, they made the right appeal but didn’t listen to God’s answer or even give Him a chance to comfort them. Their fear turned them hard and cold, bitter and defeated. The children of Israel, God’s chosen, focused on a place to die instead of a life to live, too scared to remember the promises of their Lord.

But perhaps I should temper my criticism. Isn’t that me when God is leading me somewhere new, somewhere a little scary, somewhere I can't see?
When we see the pursuers of whatever form getting close to us, despite what assurances we’ve been given, we can sometimes lapse into desperate fear too. Unstable because we stand on trust as visible as bandwidth, we still wish for the life of a secure disciple at work, and wonder behind a closed curtain when our time will come.

What do you do when the bad guys are chasing you? What do you do when your efforts to grow fruit (John 15:5) meet criticism and greed from those you seek to help? What do you do when the relationship you expected by now hasn’t come and you feel alone? What do you do when resources you counted on in the past are gone?

Fear comes, no doubt about it, but it never comes alone. It brings courage or collapse on its heals. We have to choose quickly, because fear and collapse can make us do strange things, like stand wet-legged in the very river that would carry us closer to God while we complain about the scenery. Courage says build a boat.

~ ~ ~

Hard Hat Zone

Building in the moments

Your temple -- your life -- is not like one of those super-compressed towels you place in water that expands fifty-fold in three seconds. It’s the daily weaving of all the threads together to form something that more closely resembles Christ, made from the pattern He’s drawn for us. So the building we do in those moments of fear make more or less of our temples.

In the moment when fear threatens to overtake you, remember to grip the ladder tighter and focus only on the rung immediately ahead of you. Say yes to the part that says “I believe I can keep building,” and do what is within your reach at that moment. God will supply the courage you need for that moment and the rest to come -- if your focus remains on Him instead of the rubble or horizon around you. That’s His department.

At that fearful moment -- the worrisome diagnosis from the doctor, a damaging secret revealed in your marriage, a friend’s betrayal -- whatever shakes your ladder:

* pray first and don’t stop
* rest your body and mind
* thank God for His grace to bear this situation
* be where you need to be
* let go of minor thoughts
* take care of your basic needs
* gather your facts and check your resources
* focus on God’s control
* listen for your immediate guidance—nothing more
* do what you see—nothing more
* trust God to see what you don’t.

All of this behavior in trust prepares you to combat the stifling fear and handle well the situation you’re facing. One step at a time is the only way to work through these especially frightful times, and it’s all God asks. Build in these moments a lifetime of trust.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

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

A brief study of Peter

When we think of Peter, we think of someone strong and noble, born to lead and led by his own heart. That’s true, but there’s always something more we can learn from a peek into Peter’s life.

Peter might seem an unlikely person to take a look at regarding any fears, because we know him as “the rock” Jesus would build His church on [Matthew 16:18], but Peter was not without weaknesses. He was afraid of losing something one time too, perhaps his place in a group or acceptance among those in power, but what he learned was that our faith must rest in God because only from there can we build anything.

Despite Peter’s claims of loyalty, Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” [John 13:38] And of course, that’s what happened. Among soldiers, guards and even slaves of the high priest after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied being one of Christ’s disciples. Was it the fear of being identified with Jesus and losing the comfort and ease he was used to that caused Peter to make such poor choices?

Sometimes we do that. The fear of losing something transient in this life can make us behave poorly because we’re trusting more in what we have here [security, power, position] than what we have in God. We see something slipping away, or the potential for that to happen, and we grab on tighter and speak or behave contrary to our true feelings.

Of course Peter loved Jesus, but fear kept him from building right then when he had the opportunity and caused him to tear down instead. And we can learn much from him when we’re faced with a similar situation, when we’re afraid to be true to who we are. When Peter realized what he’d done, he cried, aware of his betrayal [Matthew 26:75].

He knew that nothing was worth denying his Savior because everything comes from God and we can trust His provision and care—and His forgiveness. No matter what we have or what we may lose, it doesn’t change God’s grasp of our lives.

Peter wrote to Jewish Christians who were in a tight spot—facing trials and persecutions from those who didn’t agree with their faith. No doubt they feared the loss of everything including their lives. Peter talked to them about enduring those fears with grace and faith.

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:7]

Peter is saying that no matter what the world threatens us with, God is still God, still in charge of all our building and completely understanding of our human fears and weaknesses. The best response is simple trust.

Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:6-7], Peter says.

God planned it, he built it.

Loss or potential loss seems be around us all the time, but we can choose to trust in God’s provision and care and build anyway. We can learn from our mistakes and live up to the life Jesus set aside for us as surely as He chose Peter to build upon. Despite his stumbles and mistakes, the build continued just as God planned. So will ours if we’ll learn from our mistakes as well and make ourselves available again to God, whether we face a loss or not. Doesn’t really make any difference—trust is what matters.

I know we both understand the fear of loss. It’s terrifying and paralyzing in some cases, but God doesn’t change because our circumstances might. If what we counted on in the past is gone, God will replace it with something else, and we will see that what we need to count on the most is Him and His care and provision, despite our own “rooster crowing” moments. The jobsite remains.

So lets strap on our toolbelt despite our fear, leave our misjudgments and mis-thinking in the past, and focus only on what our Architect puts in front of us to build. We can carry on unafraid when we build with faith in God’s provision and care. He didn’t give up on Peter, and He’ll never give us on us either.

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~o

How have you let the fear of loss dictate your actions in the past?

How have your fear-driven decisions helped you—or have you seen that they’ve interfered with your building along God’s plan instead?

As losses have come and gone in your life, how have you gotten better at dealing with that fear and trusting God’s provision and care?

o ~ o ~o

Download this study of Peter 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.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Yet again . . .

I hope you’ve had a great month of March so far, and thanks again for being part of our tour!

Seems like a little more of the same here – yet another failure for me, but hopefully I can be like those persistent flowers that show up even when we think they won’t, when we’re so tired of the cold and dark. It’s tough to keep trying and waiting and then have nothing to show for it, but we soldier on, trusting everything is part of the building, believing we’ll look back one day and see how we stood on the scaffolding constructed from this failure. Hope to see you there . . . .

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, March 1, 2010

March, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of failure

My righteousness will never fail. Isaiah 51:6

Fear of failing comes to us in many forms. We sometimes fear failing on the job or failing at a skill, often failing in a relationship. We may fear we’ve failed at life in general, that we haven’t reached goals we set or become what we wanted to be—and that we never will. But we can put these fears away.

One great part about God’s plan is that it doesn’t end. Even though we’ve failed in the past (and all of us have), that’s no guarantee we’ll fail in the future. If we’re not where we want to be now (and many of us aren’t), that doesn’t guarantee a bad future. But the fear of failing can often keep us from trying again, from listening to God’s prompts, from building what’s waiting to be built.

But some preparation will help us overcome this fear and build with willingness, belief and patience, and we can start today and build one day at a time.

Discouragement and disappointment can take over our lives and stop us still, unable to even look at a stack of boards and see something in the making. I think what happens is that often, after too many falling walls and wrecked plans, we begin to plan for failure instead of success, and we let that plan overtake God’s.

Sure it’s easy to give in to the fear, but a better use of our time and energy is to prepare for success, and we do that in a couple ways.

*Reassess your goals. No matter how tall and beautiful your temple may be, I can’t duplicate it, and if I try, I will fail, because God’s designed our temples like our fingerprints, one to the soul.

When my temple -- my life -- remains in disarray with tools scattered everywhere, I have to know how to guide it and build it better. Am I clear about where I’m going and what I want the next floor to look like? If not, I will surely fail there too. Success is a lot more likely with a clear understanding of my goals and a plan to get there. Jesus knew, and He gave us a way to work unafraid.

When Jesus was in Jerusalem for a festival, He was at the pool of Bethesda and saw the injured and sick people there, each hoping to be first in the pool when it stirred and be cured. He approached one man who’d been waiting 38 years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” [John 5:6-8 NIV]

We can learn at least four points from that story to help us prepare for success:

- God is waiting on us to make a choice. Jesus’ first question to the man wasn’t about his history or condition, but his intent, and his next move depended on that answer. He’s asking us the same thing. Do we want to get well? Do we want to overcome this fear and take some risks to build and grow and live the way God’s planned for us?

- If our answer to Jesus’ question is yes and we choose to overcome our fears, then we need to follow His directions and “Get up!” – “get up” in our mind, our attitude, our belief -- and prepare for what’s next. Once we focus on God’s plan and put ourselves in it, we can build without fear.

- Preparing for success means being willing to work for it. Jesus told the man to pick up his mat -- not to wait for someone else to get it or leave it there, but to carry what he would need with him. He’s telling us to prepare with proper training, supplies, practice -- whatever we need to keep building. He makes the plan, we carry out our part.

- God’s certainly been patient with us, so we can do the same and start where we are, just like Jesus told the man. “Walk,” He said, not run, not cartwheel, not go back and fix everything that’s happened in the past, just walk. He’s saying put up one board today, hang one door today, lay just a few bricks today, and tomorrow we’ll work some more. Patience is easier when we’re walking in the right direction.

*Develop a long-range plan. You can bet God’s got one with your name on it. Your long-range plan will help you meet short-range goals, and that helps you progress one day at a time, building as you go without fear.

Your long-range plan doesn’t have to be for the rest of your life or include everything you ever hope to do all at once. Focus on one project, if you like, or look just one year out. Choose a finish line you can identify and small, measurable steps to get you there. That's preparing for success, not fearing failure.

With these strategies and with willingness, belief and patience, get to work. Soon, you’re waist-deep in the water you feared having around your ankles, and the result is even more building!

Please think about these questions and if you will, respond for our other builders here:

-why does fear of failing interfere with your life so much, or why has it in the past?
-how has it stopped you from building what you felt God wanted you to build?
-how will you plan for success in your life today and follow Jesus’ plan for the man at the pool?

Read below or download the study of Gideon for yourself or your group. Thanks for being here!

From the book . . .

Chapter 19

Stable in God’s companionship

Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people:
“I am with you . . . . My Spirit remains among you.”
Haggai 1:13, 2:5

Since God planted Adam and Even in the garden, He’s had a persistent habit of being with us. I doubt He ever planned it any other way. He made us smart and capable, but He made us to work best with Him at the center of our lives. I think He knew that despite our tendency to get a little full of ourselves now and then, we’d always get scared again sooner or later.

We’d always feel and understand the need for Someone smarter and more capable than we are to be in charge. We’d always be willing, but we’d frequently be stalled. So He planned from the very beginning a consistently hands-on management style with us, an oversight of our situation no matter what else was going on, and a reminder of all we need to know—a fire rekindled to light and fuel us when we’re cold and afraid.

And He promised. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we equate not seeing what we expect to see with Him not doing what He promised He’d do. It’s a practice that hurts and leaves us stalled, and it’s wrong. But we can fix it, because He promised.

I know that alone feeling, the worst alone feeling there is, like my blood vessels are separated from my heart and I’m going on that last bit of inertia that pulsed life into me before it faded like the ending of a song on the radio. It’s a feeling of being separated from God, wobbly and wavering, too weak to face whatever injustice befalls me and too afraid to dare to achieve whatever goal inspires me.

I think my bones must be made of fear and my will dust in a tornado, my hope absent as an infant’s guilt. Temples may need to be built, but by me? Surely not. No scaffolding seems strong enough to sturdy me for the job, no safety harness sure enough to catch me if I should fall. How can I do this job on unstable feet, with hesitant hands? How can I do this . . . alone?

I wonder if God keeps a list of all His children who’ve felt that way? Not to hold it against us, of course, because He’s masterfully forgetful of our shortcomings, but perhaps just to review the moments when our real belief came shining through like a newly confident jury surveying an innocent man.

How pleased He must be when we simply claim His promise instead of doubt His willingness to keep it. How sad He must be for us when we wonder if the system He designed works for us today, still, as reliably as He said. Perhaps He looks back now and then and thinks, “My dear little children . . . when will they allow themselves to claim this promise from Me and trust Me to be with them? I’ll just keep reminding them . . . .”

It amazes me to think how big our world is. And it scares me. Who am I that God should be here with me when He has so much else to do? And why? So I give human characteristics to God’s will and abilities and get stuck in the fear of “what if.” What if He’s less than reliable? What if He does forget about me? What if I fall off this ladder and crack my head open because He isn’t there to catch me? Unafraid sounds unattainable, and yet . . . I can’t give up.

I want the only “what if” I live with to be what if I hadn’t trusted God, and then I laugh out loud like a kid on her first cake walk win at a carnival. I want the impossibility of that “what if” to be a cause for joy that He and I talk about for a long time to come.

Inspection Point

What if He’s asking “what if” too?

We have to remember that our building project is a collaboration, that God works with us and studies our actions and reactions to guide us well.

When my jobsite looks like a toddler took over with a thousand blocks and a bottle cap to stack them on, I imagine He’s wondering “what if” I had listened to Him, “what if” I had trusted Him with the great blueprint He wanted to entrust to me.
I wonder if it’s too late to begin again, or will His guidance and security and presence come. Do you wonder?

* When have you felt too weak or unworthy to be significant to God?
* What are the “what ifs” in your life today, blocking your build?
* What “what if” has God been urging you to answer and put to rest?

Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.
Psalm 40:4

Stalled, feeling way too small for God’s big request? Throughout our history, God’s found His human help in unlikely vessels. Gideon was one of those picked despite his apparent lack of credentials, and he knew it himself. But when the Israelites were under attack by Midian, God chose Gideon to settle the dispute.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Yes, Gideon felt too little, perhaps because he forgot for a moment how God does all the heavy lifting. Perhaps he forgot that the might of our enemy is a breath of a breeze in the hurricane of God’s power. As always—our biggest job is to trust and that’s not dependent on size at all. We’re always big enough. He still promises He’s with you.

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

A brief study of Gideon

Gideon’s story is told in Judges 6 and 7

The nation of Israel was suffering under the mistreatment of the Midianites [in the early 1100s BC] and God and the Israelites had had enough. The people asked God for help and like always, He had a plan. But the person He picked to lead this building project felt inadequate, small, afraid of failing.

“How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” Gideon wanted God to know [Judges 6:15].

Maybe we’ve felt the same way – totally unprepared and ill-equipped to do the building in front of us, afraid of failing because of what we felt we had to build with. God had an answer for Gideon, and it applies to us too.

“Go with the strength you have . . . . I am sending you . . . . I will be with you,” He told Gideon [Judges 6:14,16].

God saw all He needed to see for Gideon to succeed—the strength he already had, despite where he came from or what family he belonged to or what education he had or anything else. Can you imagine God having said, “I am sending you…unprepared and sure to fail”? Not likely.

When we don’t feel up to the job before us, we often find excuses just like Gideon did. Maybe it’s a lack of money or the proper education, a bad location or a stained past—it doesn’t matter. Apparently what God focuses on is the “strength we have,” not the lack or lackluster appearance we’re so obsessed with. And in Gideon’s case, He wanted Gideon and everyone else to know that success in any form doesn’t come from what we control but from God’s hand — our job is just to build where He says while He directs the whole plan.

Gideon prepared as we might when facing a big task: heavily. He gathered 32,000 soldiers and headed out to find the enemy. Not so fast.

“The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.” [Judges 7:2]

See? Perhaps we’ve looked at a lot of fearful situations where we might fail in the wrong way, while God was only seeing an opportunity.

He finally reduced Gideon’s fighting force to 300 men, and on paper, they didn’t have a chance against the Midianite army. But what they did have to rely on was their trust in God, their full dependence on and obedience to Him, win or lose. That’s just the way He wanted it. They obeyed God’s direction and discovered the courage within themselves to overcome their fear and build.

God caused such confusion among the Midianite army that they ended up killing one another or running away. Gideon and his undersized army never touched a soldier, but they acted in trust and obedience, believing in the God who sent them there, planning for victory.

God planned it, he built it.

Today we face challenges of the heart and mind, and we may feel completely unprepared to fight them, pushed down by failures in the past. Maybe you’re fighting addiction or depression, temptation or confusion, anger or hopelessness. But we don’t have to be afraid because God is with us too, and just like He saw the potential in Gideon, He sees the potential in all of us.

“Go with the strength you have,” He’s telling us today. Even if we don’t feel that courage and ability, God will awaken it in us and guide us day by day. Our victories may not come as swiftly as Gideon’s, but our building remains to be done, each swing of the hammer adding up to the success God already sees.

Failing in the outside ways we see may be simply failing to trust and obey, afraid that any move will be the wrong one so we make no move at all. But God says go ahead, work, try, build—and board by board, we can overcome our fear of failing and build with willingness, belief and patience.

If we’re willing to accept the challenge before us, believe God’s chosen us for the victory in His plan, and work patiently through each day, we’ll look back after a while at a whole ‘nother floor to our temple. It may take a long time of building, but we don’t have to fear the work. God is with us. He said so.

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~ o

How would you have responded if you had been in Gideon’s place?

When have you released your plans and followed God’s will in a fearful situation?

What have you learned about overcoming a fear of failure that you will help you build bigger temples in your life?

o ~ o ~ o

Download this study of Gideon 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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wrapping February up . . . .

Thanks for being with us during this first month of our tour for UNAFRAID! As we wrap up this discussion of the fear of change, I wanted to talk with you for a few moments about choosing and chasing change instead of fearing it. God’s right there with us when we decide to do that—and it can lead to some amazing improvements in our lives.

Choosing to change something about ourselves, our environment, our relationships—anything that leads to a better life—takes courage and commitment because it can be hard and often takes longer than we would like. But God always has something better in mind for us when we feel that nudge to finally *just do something* about the way things are [usually the way *we* are], and deciding to chase that change is an exciting and fulfilling goal. And it doesn’t come alone.

During all our efforts, God is busy too, pouring out more grace to guide us through, sustaining us when we’re unsure or unsteady, providing all the building materials we need for a new and wonderful addition to our temples. So as we wrap us this month’s discussion and you overcome this fear, what new building -- what new change -- will you choose and chase so that you receive grace and reflect God, so that you find great JOY in your life? Please share with the rest of us . . . .

And our partner blogger this month, Iris at Grace Alone shares some thoughts about change too -- and reminds us who the Great Architect always is when we put our toolbelts on. You can read her wonderful post here.

THANKS again for being here, please stop by Monday as we begin our next discussion, overcoming the fear of failure, and welcome partner blogger Melissa at A Familiar Path . Be well and God bless!

Monday, February 1, 2010

February, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of change

"I am the LORD, I do not change."
Malachi 3:6 NKJV

The old saying goes that change is the only constant we can count on, and while that’s not completely true, it's a constant we often fear. Because change usually means we can't count on everything we used to know, it not so gently kicks us out of any comfort zone we may have managed to create, right off the scaffolding we were so carefully navigating. And that can be scary to the point of panic.

Change means we have to adapt to new situations, often new people and new circumstances, with perhaps little warning or preparation. An unwelcome change in relationship, family, work, school, schedule or surroundings can rip out all the security and joy we felt and stop our building. The ladder staggers and the tools wriggle free from our hands as we try to get a grip on the new worksite. Sure, we have to give ourselves time to take hold of the changes we face, but our lives—our temples—suffer when these changes and our fearful responses to them paralyze us.

We see panic and loss, stress and confusion. God sees opportunity, a new page of blueprints.

I know what you're thinking, and I can agree -- it's often hard to see opportunity for anything good in a change, but it helps when we break the stealth-cloaked opportunity down into two areas -- changes within ourselves and the changes outside us -- you could call it the design behind the project and the building that others see and feel. And yes, there's joy and new blessings there waiting to be discovered amid the immediate rubble from our ladder quaking.

Every change demands action and reaction from us. To regain a little control and peace and focus, we can take the opportunity to change ourselves to better reflect God in all we do - even in response to a perhaps unwanted turn of events, because His grace that makes it all possible is not on backorder by any new developments we can't control. And what we'll learn is that positive change in ourselves -- a little self-improvement project behind the scenes, if you will -- follows because it's never too late to become a more wise, understanding and effective builder.

Some family changes in the past have allowed me [I could say forced but I won't :)] to change my behavior toward others and the situations I faced, and I have to admit that while the changes weren't easy, they were welcome, maybe by me more than anyone else, because it made it easier for me to live with me [and that's a challenge in the best of times for us control-freaky people]. Yes, the learning curve is steep in this kind of effort, but the resulting progress on your temple will be worth it.

Hopefully some of my changes in response to change will help you [and please share what you've learned as well]:

- I changed and learned to pause before offering my opinion, wanted or not, before I could blink. Usually in a period of change and uncertainty, one thing not in short supply is opinions--and loud, pushy ones at that. Learning to hold my tongue til it bled -- sometimes for a while, sometimes saying nothing at all -- is a change in myself I've come to appreciate and value because we rarely help anything by spouting off like a boiling tea-kettle [not that I was prone to do that or anything, I'm just saying . . .].

- I changed and learned to wait before making decisions until I've gathered all the information. Sky-diving to conclusions is a luxury a lot of change won't allow -- and you may be like me and decide that's a good thing. Information is power, and that power is the ability to build in the right direction and not have to tear down what you've already done because it's off center based on something you didn't know or think through carefully.

- I changed and learned to reaffirm the good before addressing the bad. This task gets lots of practice during a difficult change. Cultivate the habit of remembering what's right and noble and true and delighting in that to strengthen you for dealing with those things that aren't. It's hard training in the midst of anger, sadness, disappointment, confusion or anything else that comes with change, but it's great stability for a shaky ladder.

- I changed and learned to let go. We often resist change because it takes some power or control away from us, but guess what? When I couldn't do anything about a lot of things changing around me, I learned that I didn't have to -- and I realized that I could extend that "privilege" to other areas and decide if I really had to respond at all to all the developments around me. Sometimes, I could just step back without the world falling apart -- imagine that. Having to let go helped me learn to let go and be ok about it. This change in behavior may take you a while to master too, as it has me, but it's a revelation and liberation you'll probably appreciate the more you practice it.

Even though we may not be able to change the changes that frighten us, we can make some changes of our own, on the outside, that help in dealing with them:

- Change your schedule to make whatever's required of you easier -- let chores or other responsibilities go or allow yourself more time for projects. The point is to realize new limitations and don't put any more stress on yourself than the situation demands. With a narrower focus, you'll be less overwhelmed and afraid.

- Set or reset boundaries. Big changes in our lives can leave us vulnerable -- one thing we don't need is others, those involved in the change or not, intruding on the building we're trying to salvage under the difficult circumstances. We can't let others take advantage of our blind side while we're down, sabotage our work or put up roadblocks in our way. Choose to protect yourself.

- Along with that last point, minimize contact with people who stress you as much as you can. I know that may be hard to do, but realize the choices you have and make the best ones to help continue your building. Spend time with people who will build with you and steer clear of the rest.

- Keep good records. Stress and new responsibilities make a mess of our memories, so good documentation will put your mind at ease so that you can focus on building, not on trying to remember [or argue about with others] what someone said or what day something happened.

All of these points are meant to help you respond in an active, grace-guided way to the fear you feel. God is about continuing to build despite the storms around us. And when we're armed with a prayer every breath and a strategy for building instead of a scary burden of anxiety, we can face the change coming our way and deal with it with a loaded toolbelt instead of hiding from it under a tarp. Through any change, we can build as we go and keep our focus on the joy God will restore to us as we keep swinging that hammer, trusting God to never change.

Please think about these questions and if you will, respond for our other builders here:

-What change are you facing now? What has your response been – to fear or to build?
-How have you overcome a fear of change in the past, or what have you learned from your fear in the past that helps you now when change happens?
-Why do you think we fear change so, and how do you think God wants us to respond to it in our lives?

REMEMBER: Nothing surprises God and He already knows everything you need to deal with the changes in your life. Help Him -- grab a hammer.

Overcome the fear of change and build with JOY -- God's waiting, blueprints in hand. No matter what the change, God is beside us, and our temples remain. Trusting Him and trusting that makes us unafraid.

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

From the book . . .

Here’s an excerpt from UNAFRAID: Living God’s Plan on a Ladder and a Promise that might help you a bit more as you face fearful changes, because you will manage your life changes well with the grace of God – trust Him to be there. I’ll post more excerpts as we go along.

Chapter 18
Building from the bottom up

Why is it so scary to build that trust God promises He’ll honor? Why do we live the “suspenders and a belt” philosophy so often, guarding ourselves in the event God gets lost on His way to help us? Why are we apt to watch Him like a new employee who can’t be trusted with the keys to the vault? Why do His promises look like high-priced menu items we can’t afford? Regardless of our reasons, there’s one way to grab a hammer and build from the bottom up: practice.

God’s temple of our lives is just like the temple the Hebrews built. It starts on the ground, not twenty stories high. It starts where you can reach the work flat-footed. Then as winds and rains and fear and doubt come, you have to make the decision to keep going or to stop. And every time you keep going up, the ground gets a little farther away. Then the fierce winds may make you sway a little more, and it may be harder to feel stable and secure, but with practice—with the choice to keep on building—you master that level and move on.

And when we choose to keep building, even a little afraid when our jobsite’s a total mess, we do that in trust in God. We trust Him for our strength and ability and for His control over everything that’s ours and everything that isn’t. We trust Him when we’re standing on the ground and then we’re stabilized and energized to trust Him on the roof, where the work is much greater but so is the view.

That’s our work, our daily work, to know and practice real trust that comes from knowing and believing our God who makes promises to keep, who designs our lives to the finest point, and who stands always beside us on the ladder as we build. High or low, He is all we see.

Speaking with a stable trust

Let’s take a moment to look at a story we’ll look at again at the end of our book. This story is the perfect and timeless illustration of God’s vision and provision and our part in His work.

As Jesus and His disciples were sitting on a mountainside, lots and lots of people came to see Him. After a long walk, they were hungry for more than His words. Jesus asks Philip “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5).

We can see this experience as an exercise, a trust-stretcher, because Jesus knew exactly what He was going to do before He asked. Philip’s response was probably like ours is very often when we’re faced with a surprising challenge—focused on what he could see and touch and limited to what his humanness could (or couldn’t) imagine or achieve.

Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” [John 6:7]

Well, isn’t he a ray of sunshine and possibility. And we can be just like him sometimes, or maybe that’s just me. But we know the story doesn’t end with Philip’s charming voice of optimism. Andrew speaks up and teaches us with his great example what it means to trust our Lord no matter what the world looks like.

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” he asks (John 6:9) And of course, Jesus takes it from there.
Oh, I want to be Andrew! So calm and sure, focusing on what they have instead of what they don’t. He’s claiming every promise he’s ever heard from Jesus to come true right there, on the grass, hungry, just waiting to see what happens next knowing Jesus is in control.

Andrew speaks with the authority of a stable disciple. “Let’s trust Him. Let’s look at what we have and trust our Lord to do the best He can with it,” he’s saying. That’s all we need to remember. Impossible situations surround us all the time, and some of us are masters at finding and creating the chaos in even the not so tragic circumstances. Again, maybe just me.

But God says the solution remains the same -- Trust Me. He’s saying trust Me and work with Me and the bounty will be more than enough. I promise. Everything we need is dependant on one thing—where our focus and trust lies—and everything else follows. He says, “Focus on Me, no matter what you see.”

When the Israelites behaved with the mindset of Andrew, they finished their work. They rebuilt the temple unafraid, with the trust they built on the promises of God.

Let’s take a closer look now at how we keep building high a temple of our own, on that same trust of the same loving God. Some things never change.

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

A brief study of Ruth . . .

You may be familiar with the story of Ruth, the woman from Moab who resettled in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi after Ruth’s husband, Naomi’s son, died. It made sense for Naomi to return to her homeland with no husband or son to help care for her, but Ruth didn’t have to go with her. She could have stayed in her homeland, but her loyalty and affection for Naomi caused her to go. We could also say it was God’s plan that created their alliance and strengthened their attachment, and we wouldn’t be wrong.

Still, it had to be frightening for Ruth to go to the land of Judah, where people from her homeland of Moab weren’t always welcome. She was going to a strange place with no husband, no father, no idea of what lay ahead, but she faced the change with trust in the person closest to her and a willingness to adapt to a new life, perhaps even joy at what might await her.

“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God,” Ruth told Naomi [Ruth 1:16].

So despite her fear or anxiety or anything else, Ruth chose to “build” a new life. Sometimes we have to build a whole new life after a big change today. Sometimes we have to go to new places or accept new situations, perhaps with few people to trust or little information about what’s going to happen. Still, we can follow Ruth’s example and build instead of fear.

Ruth began her new life with what was right in front of her – work that could be described at best as menial and at worst as demeaning, but it was work she did with her usual attitude of trust and unselfishness.

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to leg me do it.” Naomi replied,
“All right, my daughter, go ahead.” [Ruth 2:2]

Those who had no means of support (such as widows) could pick up any grain left in the fields after the harvesters had cut the wheat and barley stalks. It was perhaps the only food some of them had, and it wasn’t easy work, but Ruth accepted this work with honor and saw no shame in it [Ruth 2:7].

Our changes may demand that we adapt to activities or behavior we wouldn’t choose, but we can try to see everything as working toward God’s plan somehow – and I know that’s hard sometimes – but every bit of “grain we harvest” today may play a bigger role tomorrow than we could have ever imagined. Doing what’s in front of us with trust today – unafraid – means building bigger and better no matter what changes in our lives.

Despite a new home and new countrymen and no guarantee of their acceptance, Ruth built with trust and loyalty, and the floors of her temple kept going up whether she realized the significance of it or not. She remained humble and open to the circumstances around her, taking one day at a time and doing what she could to manage her change, nothing more. Her courage didn’t go unnoticed. Boaz, the owner of the field she was gleaning from, was impressed by her character, and his attention didn’t blemish her integrity.

“What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” [Ruth 2:10-13]

The story continues when Naomi explains to Ruth that Boaz is their “family redeemer,” which meant that he could marry Ruth so that she would be taken care of, because Naomi had no other living sons. The custom may sound strange to us, but in their time, it meant security and perhaps the difference between life and death for widows who inherited nothing to live on. Perhaps the custom could also have been abused in some case, but not this one. Full of integrity himself, Boaz followed all protocol and eventually married Ruth, perhaps building one of the biggest floors of their temples—Ruth gave birth to Obed, David’s grandfather.

God planned it, they built it.

We see that Ruth’s building, based on her integrity, honor, loyalty and courage, supported so much more, and from her life we see the potential for ours. All our temples (lives) intersect in ways we will probably never know, and some of the changes that come our way and frighten us the most may be the most necessary building opportunities we have.

It helps us to keep building unafraid when we understand that every effort we make and every height we reach impacts the future and the temples of those around us. Maybe you’re benefiting now from someone who overcame her fear of change to build with joy. Or maybe you’re the builder who’s touching others.

Either way, know that you can trust the work you see in front of you, and you can find the joy in a new page of blueprints when you trust that God is working with a plan that fits the best use of your life, just like He did with Ruth.

How could she have known what joys and blessings were in store for her when she embraced a monumental change in her life and never let go of the hammer in her hand? And knowing her story and God’s faithfulness to be here with us when we’re facing change, how can we not do the same?

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~o

What are some ways you can identify with Ruth?

What can you learn from her to guide you in your building today?

How will you help God as He continues to build bigger temples in your life?

o ~ o ~o

Download this study 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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Build it because He already planned it . . .

New Year, Same Old Fears . . . Not This Time!

Welcome to The Great 5-in-5 Build – 5 Fears Faced Unafraid in 5 Months, starting February 1! We’re about to learn all about trust in God and where it’ll carry us – grab your toolbelt . . . .

Do you have any fears or anxieties interfering with your life and the plan you know God has for you? Are you fighting the same battles over and over, stalled in what you don’t know and afraid to trust what God tells you? Have you built anything wonderful lately?

If some of that describes your life, or if you’ve overcome much of the same and can help your fellow builders, please join us for this blog tour and study of how we can live our lives UNAFRAID, how we can have joy in the building of everything God says we’re here to build.

The Israelites, about 2500 years ago, were able to leave Babylon after a long captivity and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the burned temple Solomon had built. What a job God gave them (and we’re going to see just how significant that was as we go), but they struggled in their fear and lack of trust.

We’re going to learn from them and see how their lessons guide us in the building of our “temples” today -- our lives that reflect God and His grace to those around us. And we’re going to enjoy it, because God gave us this life where He is the center -- and that means joy and peace and progress and courage. And that means YOU!

Please join us each month, beginning February 1, as we examine a particular fear. We’ll look at fairly universal fears we all struggle with, have or will because they touch our basest human needs and emotions. Each fear has lots of faces and stories as varied as our readers -- and just as many victories. We want to celebrate those stories and victories and pass on help to others, because that’s what our mission is here: receiving God’s grace and reflecting Him back to others and helping them build in whatever way we can.

I’ll post an initial message about each fear the first of each month, February through June, as well as a brief study guide. Fellow bloggers are welcome to post both my messages and the study guides to their blogs, and each month, one particularly blogger will join me in examining each fear [schedule below].

All readers, of course, are encouraged to post their experiences, struggles, lessons learned, victories and joys for others to learn from as well.

And everyone who participates will be part of our Toolbelt Brigade – those of us working each day to build where God says build, unafraid. And that means we’ll still be swinging a hammer long after this 5-in-5 Build is over, because as long as God’s left us here, He’s got a plan. All we have to do is our part, and we do it much better in faith than in fear.

So please join us beginning February 1 as we work to make this year different from all the rest. Our temples are waiting . . . .

Our Schedule...

Our Blog Tour Schedule

February – fear of change, we overcome and build with joy in new blessings to come
February's Partner Blogger: Iris at Grace Alone . . .
[brief Bible study of Ruth]

March – fear of failing, we overcome and build with willingness, belief and patience
March's Partner Blogger: Melissa at A Familiar Path
[brief Bible study of Gideon]

April – fear of loss, we overcome and build with faith in God’s provision and care
April's Partner Blogger: Tammy at My Heart . . . His words
[brief Bible study of Peter]

May – fear of rejection, we overcome and build with security and purpose
May's Partner Blogger: Terry at Breathing Grace
[brief Bible study of Moses]

June – fear of loss of control, we overcome and build with trust (the point of the whole book: Trust ME, God says.)
June's Partner Blogger: Kristen at Hands, House, and Heart Full
[brief Bible study of Joseph]

Monday, January 18, 2010

The back story . . . .

This blog is called A Hundred Fearless Words because I originally planned to post brief, meaningful messages about overcoming fears and point you to my new book -- just take a little of your time now and then to talk about courage while I moved on to the next project.

Then my life ended. Well, no, I’m still here of course, but as I was getting ready to release this book, I walked through the most unexpected and unthinkable time I’d ever known, and it’s not over, but I’m recovering. Of all the horrible stuff I’ve been afraid of before (and often written about to my amazingly patient, long-suffering readers), I’m now facing new unimaginable fears, and the wounds from my own piece of hell are still raw and bleeding. Scared doesn't touch it, and yet, here we are.

So let’s back up a sec. All my books, all my speaking, all my work -- it’s all what I’ve lived, where I’ve been, where God has held me and healed me with His grace. Like you, I seek others so that I can gratefully pass on that grace, and this new blog was supposed to be like that -- it was supposed to be about me helping you and teaching you and encouraging you -- and with my partner bloggers and God’s grace, it still will be, with a twist.

I can’t separate my work and my life and my readers. I never have, and those of you who know me well know how I’ve spilled all my mistakes and messes out for you to see. BUT, in the past, those mistakes and messes were in the past too, cleaned up a little, and I was better by the time God let me near you. But this time, we’re not so lucky, either one of us, and the work must go on.

So more exposed than ever and in more need of your understanding and support, here I am, my knee-shaking, heart-pounding, praying without ceasing scaredy-cat self, about to talk with you about being unafraid.

Because as terrified as I am right now, I know God is still in control. I can’t see it well right now, but I will choose to trust it. Journey with me, if you dare, and I promise you we’ll both have God beside us as we go. And we’re going to make this year our best ever, starting now. Thanks for being here . . . .