October 19, 2013

Shielding the Triggers (Part 4)

Ephesians 6 lists the shield of faith as one of the pieces of armor to use in defense against the attacks of Satan. Why? I love what Beth Moore says, "When we are convinced that God is believable and we respond to Him in faith, practically nothing can get through to us. But when our faith diminishes, our shield begins to drop, and we are immediately vulnerable to the enemy. Satan will stop at nothing to get us to lower our shield of faith so he can wound and burn us. He stacks up tangible evidence in opposition to God's assurances. He delights in doubts and lies. He studies our weaknesses and then aims where we're vulnerable. His priority job description is to keep us form believing God." And believe you me, he knows our weaknesses. My counselor calls them triggers...you know, those things that seem to come out of nowhere and cause us to become emotionally unraveled. But wouldn't it be awesome if, as soon as we sensed a trigger go off inside of us, we grabbed our shield of faith and started preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What if we immediately began rooting and established ourselves in the love of God so that our emotions couldn't take us every which way?

Psalm 25:15 says: “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.” Triggers are lies of the enemy to believe that we have unmet needs, unresolved issues, and unhealed hurts that are only going to be met by getting our own way. And so, we respond to these triggers by self-medicating. We get angry, abusive, lustful, hungry, depressed, anxious, manipulative, wounded, and selfish, you name it. We turn to ourselves or others as our savior. And we get trapped in the snare of the deadly cycle. We have to choose to take our eyes off of those things that we think we are owed, want, or even believe we need. We need to center our attention on our loving God. You see, this verse comes after “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…” and “Good and upright is the LORD, therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” If we don’t really believe that those verses are true, we will never, and I mean never, refocus our wandering eyes onto our God. We will never preach the Gospel to ourselves. We will never root and establish ourselves in His love. We will never experience freedom from fear.

According to Andy Stanley, “Every good thing that comes your way comes from your Heavenly Father – which is all the more reason to take your unmet needs, your heartfelt needs, and even your embarrassing wants and wishes to him. Will you go to God with these or just keep trying to wring them out of those closest to you?”

Going to God and not harboring or wringing takes strength and discipline. The strength part is taken care of according in Ephesians 6:10, which follows the verses on the shield of faith: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (italics mine). I don’t need to be strong in and of myself in order to face my fears. Think of the worst case scenario for the situation you are trying to control in order to avoid abandonment. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Okay, now realize that right now that seems impossible for you to face – because (and I hate to be Captain Obvious) you don’t have to face it right now. Perhaps this is why One oh so much wiser than the rest of us said to not worry about tomorrow…today is enough. We have more than enough strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) to deal with today. However, we are never going to make it if we don’t decide to discipline our minds on the love of God. Train your mind to trust that God is Sovereign. Even though you may think you are in control, you are not. Those things you dread could happen regardless of whether or not you submit to God’s sovereignty and love…so why not just rest in His omniscience and omnipotence? Trust is simple…when you begin to worry or to grow angry or jealous or greedy, remind yourself that God, Who knows everything and Who will ultimately work His will for your good and His glory, loves you and will do what He (as God of the universe) deems necessary. Let me remind you again, this will happen regardless of whether you “allow” Him to or not. Rest in His love for you.

October 17, 2013

Fear and Faith (Part 3)

Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Ephesians 2:4-5: "But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."

1 John 4:9-10: "This is love - not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Selah. I mean, what can I even say after those verses? Did you stop and really meditate on what these verses are really, I mean really, saying? God proves His own love...HIS LOVE...His very own love...for US. How did He prove it? When I was in the middle of the worst sin I will ever commit, the one sin I will be afraid He will never forgive, the one sin I will forever be ashamed of...He died for me. Because He wants to be with me.


Not only that, but because of His GREAT love for me, He made me ALIVE. That's right. He took away my old life filled to the brim with sins (past, present and future sins) and gave me Christ's life. That means that when God looks at me, He doesn't see Nicole. He sees Jesus. He doesn't see the years I battled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He doesn't see the years I almost destroyed my marriage and family. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He doesn't see the sins I am going to commit in the future and be so ashamed of. Nope. He sees Christ. I mean, what?! And...I love this. He initiated all of this love first and foremost. It's His love that defines our relationship. It's not a mutual love. Nuh-uh. It's only Him. And that's great news. Cause I am going to fail and my love is going to go MIA. But He's still going to be there. Cause it's His love. Not mine.

It's a funny thing...as I begin to bask in His love for me, my fear of abandonment begins to disappear.

That's why God's Word says that perfect love casts out all fear. But I cannot do any of this without faith. I have to believe that God loves me and hang on to that belief, especially when I experience pain from my own decisions and/or somebody else's.

Hebrews 11:6 says it's impossible to please God without faith. We have to believe that He truly does exist and rewards those who seek after Him. What's the reward? What we have already studied: A life without fear. If you read on in Hebrews 11, you will see person after person who did extraordinary things in the face of real danger because they believed God loved them and had a plan and a purpose for their lives. They found their identities not in things found on this earth, but in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:13-16 explains, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has a prepare a city for them.” I love that. They could have returned at any point to the people and things that they thought could fulfill them here on this earth. But they knew better. They rooted and established themselves in the love of God and by faith accepted the plans and purposes He had for their lives. Therefore, they were able to live without fear. But living by faith is not easy. It is a moment by moment decision.

October 15, 2013

Love Without Fear (Part 2)

This cycle (read Fear: The Catalyst Emotion) even bleeds over into our relationship with God...we feel as though that is how He interacts with us. While we do good, He accepts us and loves us and wants to be with us. When we mess up, He disapproves and so no longer accepts us and would rather we not be around. And so we run. We become the Prodigal and push God far, far away so that we are not abandoned by Him, but instead reject Him to remain in control.

However, we can also become the legalist...constantly attempting to prove to God that we are acceptable...we are worthy...He shouldn't abandon us. We are fostering a relationship birthed completely out of fear of God abandoning us and consequently fueled by us attempting to manipulate God into "liking" us.

You see, our fear of abandonment grows out of our knowledge that we are not able to measure up to anything for anyone. We know ourselves. We know we are going to let people down because we let ourselves down. We are so aware of our own struggles we truly believe that if anyone really knew us inside out, he/she wouldn't love us...especially not the God of the Universe. And so we strive to give off some sort of air of perfection...whether in our homes, our jobs, our finances, our schooling, our religion, or our extracurricular activities. If we can find a way to accept ourselves, then surely someone else will be able to accept us. And yet, the cycle continues.

It isn't until we come to fully accept God's unconditional, unwavering love for us that we will be able to love Him and love others without fear. I wrote this in my journal the other day: "God does not see me the way I see myself. He loves me greatly! He has made me alive and desires and intimate relationship with me." I had just read Ephesians 3:17: "So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to graph how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filed to the measure of all the fullness of God." I continued in my journal, "I have to be rooted and established in the love of God in order to grasp the extent of His love." Did you catch that? I realized that if I didn't plant myself securely in the fact that God loves me like a crazy person, then I wasn't ever going to fully understand just how much He loves me. Reread that sentence if you need to. I need to.

I looked up the word "rooted". It means, "The part of a thing attaching it to a greater or more fundamental whole. The basic cause, source, or origin of a thing. The essential substance or nature of something." Wow. The only way I am going to experience wholeness is by attaching myself to the love of God. If I do not allow His love to wash over me and to fill in all of the empty spaces caused by a lack of love and acceptance somewhere in my past, I will constantly be looking to other people and/or things to complete me, and, as we read earlier, that only causes conflicts and deadly cycles. The passage in John 15 about the vine and the branches is beginning to make more sense now, huh? The word "established" takes the concept of being rooted in God's love one step further: "Having been in existence for a long time and therefore recognized and generally accepted. Having taken root - growing well." I love that. Not only do I have to attach myself to the love of God, I have to be "growing well" in it. What does that mean? I need to constantly be preaching the Gospel to myself...especially when I fail. I have no choice but to meditate on God's love for me.

October 13, 2013

Fear: The Catalyst Emotion (Part 1)

Emotions are simply reactions - automatic, spontaneous reactions. When something good or bad happens to you, your first reaction is usually an emotion. Feelings in and of themselves are not wrong. The Bible speaks freely of emotions - raw, vivid emotions. The book of Job contains the biography of a man who lost everything, and expressed deep hurt, abandonment, confusion, depression, loneliness, and anger. The Psalms are filled with intense emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, brokenness, guilt, frustration, loneliness. Jesus himself felt anguish, anger, sadness, loss. So the issue is not that you react; the issue is how you respond.

I believe the one emotion that tends to be the catalyst for all other emotions is fear. And not just fear in and of itself. Fear of abandonment. We are all afraid to be alone. God wired us for relationships so the absence of those terrifies us. Consequently, we are always fighting for control of other people. Why? Because then we think we can control our fear.

This is why almost every single one of us could admit to being a control freak in our relationships. We are attempting to keep the other person from leaving us - abandoning us. Unfortunately, whenever I try to control my loved ones in order to protect myself, I end up in a conflict. When my attempts at control come to nothing, then I become spiritual. Yeah, I go there (so do you). I start “praying” about it, praying that God would enable me to better control the person. When this doesn’t work, which (here’s the bad news) it is guaranteed to fail, then I vainly attempt to control the situation myself yet again. Except, just as in round one, this fails miserably…so, you guessed it, I pray about it some more…thinking that surely God will give in, because, I, after all, am praying (and with quite a bit of faith, mind you, faith that I am right and justified for what I ask).

James 4:1-3 says it this way, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Do they not come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

That last line in the verse is a doosey: "You do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." Fear of abandonment originates from actually experiencing abandonment at some point in our past. We discovered really quickly that people are always looking to others for their love, acceptance, worth and security. Therefore, they only accepted us if we loved and did good to them...The moment we failed and they were hurt, we felt their disapproval and disappointment. They reacted with rejection. Rejection is self-protection against feeling abandoned. This only makes sense, right? I mean, if someone is afraid of being abandoned and I treat them negatively, the message she receives is that I do not care about her...I am rejecting her and consequently, she is quick to pull the plug on our relationship as protection against what she perceives as the impending abandonment. Now I feel rejected and abandoned. And the deadly cycle continues. We get trapped. And see, God isn't going to free us from this bondage because we cannot look to people to fulfill us. We cannot allow their love, acceptance, worth and security to be our identity. This is exactly why so many marriages end in divorce and so many parent/child relationships are blown to smithereens. We were never meant to be each other's saviors.

October 11, 2013

Stressed Spelled Backwards is Desserts

We all know that “Stressed spelled backwards is desserts”, am I right? But I think deep in our hearts, we truly believe that stressed spelled backwards is deserted.

That’s tough. But how true is that? I mean, when you are feeling stressed, you think everything and everyone depends on you and you are one mistake away from being deserted. If you think that’s a tad dramatic, then take some personal inventory.

If you are feeling stressed right now, get to the bottom of it. Ask yourself why. Now, some of us have legitimate stresses in our lives. But others of us, not so much. Our stress is self-induced out of our futile attempts to find our identity in everything and everyone but Jesus Christ. We don’t want to disappoint ourselves or other people. Mainly because we are terrified that we are going to come up short and be left alone. And nobody wants to be alone.

What do I mean? Well, currently, I am stressed. And I will tell you why, but you have to promise not to look down on me. It’s embarrassing. So here it goes.

I have two pretty big events in the beginning of November. And I have to find an outfit. And I’m stressed. Like, I laid awake for a while last night stressed.

Let the judgment commence.

But seriously. This whole outfit thing is really throwing me for a loop here. And why? Well, on my morning run God had a little heart to heart with me. He made it very clear that my insecurity is getting the best of me and so finding the perfect outfit is a way to mask it with some self-imposed confidence. Ouch. He went on to let me know that most of my stress recently has been directly connected to my attempting to control everyone and everything around me so that I feel better about myself. I am not allowing Jesus Christ to define me. I am defining myself through my accomplishments, my appearance, and my relationships. When I get terrified of failure, I know I am moving further away from Who I am in Christ and closer and closer to my own definitions of who I am. And that stresses me out.

So, let me ask you...why are you really stressed today? If something doesn’t go exactly your way, will you feel like a failure? Less of a person? Are you afraid you are going to be left in the dust if you don’t prove yourself? If so, you are finding your identity in what you do and in what other people think of you. And it’s exhausting. Re-calibrate. Remind yourself that you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. God loves you because of Jesus Christ. When He looks at you, He sees Jesus Christ’s perfect record. Rest.

(Read Ephesians 1 if you need a good dose of who you are in Christ.)