Thursday, April 1, 2010

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.

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