COURAGE LOST – COURAGE FOUND

By Jamie Martelle

 

My last blog post was all about rising above my anxious thoughts.  As though the enemy was offended by this, there have since been some forces at work in my life that have really tested me, grating away at my already-delicate level of confidence.  The sense of unease settled over me like a fog, sometimes awful and thick, with glimmers of fear and doubt flashing through the darkness.  There was just no powering through this.  Little things turned into monsters and grew so large they seemed to obscure what little light was still shining.  My mind, heart and soul froze up, and I realized I had lost my courage.

The question brewing in my mind was, what does a person do when she’s lost her courage?  A few (foolish) things came immediately to mind:

  • You can start making a mental list of the ten (or twenty) dumbest things you’ve ever done in your life and start replaying them painfully over in your head until you just crawl under the covers and stay there.
  • You can systematically wipe out all of the food in your cupboards, starting with the carbs.
  • You can drink, smoke, or use whatever other chemical is currently your preference; or,
  • ______________________ (Fill in the blank).

I have struggled all of my life with anxiety and panic disorder.  I don’t know if it will ever be completely gone until I reach my heavenly home, but it has lessened, a great deal, thankfully. I have been redeemed and I am a child of God.  In this state, I have found that there is a certain peace and hope at the core of my being, but still, I am very human in a very broken world.  That knowledge keeps me on my knees, seeking God for healing and refining me into becoming the person He created me to be.  I have “done my time” in the prison of addiction to substances, and I am forever thankful for God’s deliverance.  However, I still struggle with fear and anxiety.

I was pondering this while pouring a bowl of cereal, after eating a huge mound of popcorn and several handfuls of nuts, when I thought of Elijah.  Elijah was a prophet in Israel during the reign of a very evil king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel (see 1 Kings 17-18).  Ahab and Jezebel were just plain scary.  Yet, Elijah went up against them and was empowered by God to demonstrate His authority over this earthly king and queen who had rejected Him.  Elijah was so brave!  And yet, after an amazing display of God’s awesome power and might, in partnership with Elijah before all the people, Elijah received news that Jezebel was going to destroy him, and he ran for his life.  Elijah was exhausted and burned out. His resources were all used up and God knew it.  He had mercy on Elijah. He sent an angel to care for Elijah, to feed him and minister to him.  After Elijah rested for a time, he traveled forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, where Moses had met with God some centuries before.  When he got there, he went into a cave to spend the night.  God met with Elijah in that cave.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:9-10)

     I have never had anyone threaten to kill me, but I have definitely felt alone, and at risk of losing what little control, or personal freedom I felt that I had over my life, and that something terrible was about to happen.  When I seek the Lord’s face, and ask Him what it is that I’m supposed to do, how I’m supposed to act under the circumstances, it seems as though He answers me in riddles.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

     Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 

      When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”(1 Kings 19:11-13)

     I’m thinking, praying, “Lord, You know that I love You, You know I will do anything You ask of me.”  And I pull my cloak over my face because He is so powerful and all-consuming, as I wait for his response, which comes after a time, “Trust Me.”  “Rest now.”  “Abide in Me.”  And He goes on, as in that earlier encounter, with Moses:

Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

     Because I know, more than anything else in this world or beyond it, He is good.  He has made His goodness very real to me.  He has delivered me when I didn’t think He existed or cared.  He has loved me when I took Him for granted.  I have learned that He is light, and there is no darkness within Him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this about what God said to Moses: “I will stoop to your weakness. I will let you see something. But, much more important than that, I will cause all my goodness to pass before you. I will give you a deeper insight and understanding into myself, into my character, into what I am. That is what you really need to know.” (http://www.studylight.org/desk/index.cgi?rq=01033&t1=en_niv)

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (vv. 21-23)

In my weakest moments, when I am feeling completely undone, I have no choice but to rest in Him.  That is, apparently, His will for me.  It’s as if He has placed me in a cleft in the Rock, and covered me with His mighty hand, and purposes to show me how He is going to take care of me and whatever my situation may be.  My courage is worth about as much as a lost piece of paper, flying, tossed in the wind.

 “These four things are happening at the same time, whenever God draws near to his people – revealing and concealing, blessing and protecting, all happening together at one and the same time. You cannot separate these things.” (Lloyd-Jones)

     “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39, emphasis mine.)

     Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us.  Take that in, breath its truth to your soul.  Rest, and abide in the One who formed you in your mother’s womb.  In due time, He will restore your courage, but only after you’ve come to realize it’s worthless without Him.

That time God talked to me in the Mexican restaurant

By Dan Kivett

 

2012 was a pretty eventful year for me. That’s probably the biggest understatement I could ever make. At the beginning of the year, I was a hopeless drunk who didn’t know what he was going to do. I had no money and, much more importantly, I had no hope. God was looking out for me and arranged for me to stay at a rescue mission in York, Nebraska. It was there that not only did I get back on my feet, but that I took Jesus as my Savior and began a new life.

At the mission it seemed like every day I learned something new about God and my relationship with Him. People would tell me that I was growing by leaps and bounds. I tried very hard to learn as much as I could because I felt like God was preparing me for something. I didn’t know what it was but I wanted to be as ready for it as I could be.

I started showing symptoms of some sort of illness in August, and by December I was using a cane because I had trouble walking. Several trips to different doctors didn’t produce the kind of concrete diagnosis that I had been hoping for. With that on my mind, one evening I went to dinner try to blow off some steam and just relax for a while.

Mexico Lindo was a restaurant right across from where I would go swimming so I would often stop by there afterward to put back on any calories that might have escaped from me. It was usually pretty quiet and it was a good place to go escape from the world for a bit. On this particular night as I was waiting for my meal (probably huevos con chorizo) I started to sense that God had something he wanted to tell me. Now for me to just sit there obediently and graciously accept a message from my Creator, I guess, would be just be a little too easy. In my arrogance I turned up the headphones I was wearing and tried to drown God out.

Looking back it seems pretty absurd and disrespectful but I guess that’s just where my mindset was that night. I was very stressed out and frankly was very tired of hearing about and thinking about my health problems. It had started to consume my life. This night I just wanted to eat my Mexican food and for a half hour, just be somewhere where no one would want to talk about my health.

As I sat there I felt the same feeling as before, that God had a message for me. This feeling grew over several minutes and eventually I realized that I was being immature. There have been many times in my life that I cried out to God and wanted a response so badly and here I was arrogantly thinking that I could ignore Him. So I turned off the music and these were the words that he put in my head:  “I already know what’s going to happen and at no point will I leave you.”

When I heard those words I felt something that had been very rare in the weeks and months leading up to that moment; I felt peace. And I don’t think I realized at the time what a gift God had just given me. It’s been over four years since that night and I still think of those words on a regular basis. Those words have come to mind during some of the most difficult and trying periods of my life.

There’ve been many times that I have struggled to understand why I am sick and why I can’t get well. There have been times when I am in so much pain that all I can do is lay in bed and pray that I fall asleep so that I won’t hurt anymore. There have been times when I have lost relationships because the people involved were unable to come to terms with my illness and decided to walk away. And there have even been times I have doubted that God really loved me because I couldn’t understand why this illness had to happen to me. During these times and so many others, the gift that the Lord gave me was always there. These simple words were always there: “I already know what’s going to happen and at no point will I leave you.”

It took me a long time to understand that God already knows the outcome of every problem and situation that I face. None of this is a surprise to Him. If He tells me that He won’t leave me it means that He has seen the end and knows that He didn’t leave me. These are the words that allow me to keep going no matter how much pain I’m in or how much frustration I face because my arms and legs don’t work the way I would like them to. I can keep going because I know that God goes with me. He gave me the gift of letting me know that He will never abandon me and I take that with me everywhere I go.

Now I understand that this whole talking to God thing might sound a little crazy to some people and I definitely used to think that way too. But there are a few things that I have learned during my walk with the Lord and one of them that is that just because things don’t make sense doesn’t mean they’re not real. I don’t have to understand everything even though I might want to. Frankly, I’m not going to understand everything about God. My brain just can’t do it, and that’s okay.

I’m not someone who pretends that it’s easy to have faith. It’s not, at least for me anyway. It’s not an instinct for me, it’s a choice. Sometimes it’s a very difficult choice but I know that what God wants from me is faith.  He wants me to trust Him. He never told me that my life would be easy but He did say that he would never leave me.
And He never has.

Learning to Run Like a Deer

By Jamie Martelle

 

Nothing brings you closer to the Lord like being broke.  I say that with a bit of a smirk, but it is during those times when you find yourself in a situation akin to a quagmire, flailing around for a life rope of some sort, when you can choose to square your shoulders with the determination to trust God in this, and He will show His glory.

We have a few things going on, medical bills and tax season, mainly.  It’s nothing terrible, but definitely a different sort of financial picture than we would prefer.  I was struggling with this, but I knew that God would not appreciate my lack of trust in this situation, so I just gave up.

I gave up worrying.

I gave up being angry.

I gave up feeling sorry for myself.

It wasn’t without some doing.  But a beautiful memory surfaced in the process, of a message I heard during our revival last fall, from the Reverend Nathan Covington.  He talked about the feet of a deer, specifically, this refers to a female deer, known as a hind (as in the King James Version).

For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?  It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.  (Psalm 18:31-33 NIV)

“What is special about the feet of a doe, a deer, a female deer?” you may be wondering.  Reverend Covington explained, a hind is the only animal that has the ability to perfectly follow with her back feet the steps taken with her front feet.  Because of that special gift, she is able to climb the steep, rocky face of a mountain and find her way around, without ever getting lost, and her young are able to follow more easily.  These deer don’t get lost the way humans would, climbing a mountain, veering one way and then another, searching out the way to go.

The way that God makes our feet like the feet of a deer doesn’t have as much to do with our feet as it has to do with our thoughts.

My mind goes so many different directions.  I know what I need to do, but then my thoughts turn toward my resistance to doing it.  Can you relate?  I have the deliberate thought of what I know I need to do, then from my subconscious mind comes the nagging, “I don’t want to…this makes me so mad…why should I have to…,” really unhelpful, negative thoughts.

The other day when I was struggling with the sad news of our recent income tax report, and those negative kinds of thoughts were plaguing me, a thought that was not of my own came to me.  I had a choice.  If I trusted God, I ought to choose not to fear, not to worry, but to know that this situation did not come as a surprise to Him, and He will bring us through it.  I could choose the security of resting in His care for me, and freedom from anxiety and depression.  That felt really good, I must say.

Those old yucky thoughts didn’t just go away, but I had a defense to deal with them then.  I kept fighting them off with the assurance that God is in control, and He has a great track record for taking exceptionally good care of us.  Soon, I remembered Reverend Covington’s sermon about the hind’s feet.

The hind’s special ability correlates with the way we can learn to pattern our conscious and subconscious thoughts.  We have the ability to select or reject the thoughts that we think.  When we select only the thoughts that take us in the direction we know that we need to go, the direction that God tells us so plainly we are to go, we can reach the highest heights of the life He has planned for us.

I found that turning my thoughts back to focusing on God’s promises to me and on His truth took some effort, but not nearly as much effort as it takes to keep up with and deal with all my negative emotions.  I was actually empowered when I did this, I believe because He rewarded those efforts with His supernatural strength.  Without the “junk” thoughts (think “spam”) weighing down my spirit, I was much better equipped to move on and deal with our situation in a productive way.

There are times when this will not be so easy, I am certain of that.  I’ve already walked through plenty of those times; I imagine there will be more.  This is not a blog post to tell people how to “just deal with it and move on,” ignoring and stuffing emotional pain.  This is a story of a tool that was given to me, that I plan to use, again and again.  I offer it to you, as well.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

(Helen H. Lemmel, 1922, public domain)

EVERYTHING MEANS EVERYTHING

Written by Dan Kivett

 

       I didn’t really know much about praying growing up. I knew that it was a good thing to do, but wasn’t really sure when to do it. I thought that prayer was only for really important occasions, usually emergencies or when I did something I shouldn’t have and didn’t know what to do. It seemed like I shouldn’t bother God with the small stuff, like somehow maybe He didn’t have time to help me unless it was a life or death situation. Or maybe He didn’t want to.
       Later on in my life I prayed more often but wasn’t really sure who or what I was supposed to be praying to.  I had a very vague concept of what it seemed God might be like and Jesus wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Praying seemed like a good thing to do so I did it. Eventually though I stopped when my life fell apart because of bad decisions I had made. Little did I know that soon I would learn more about prayer than I could imagine.
       I spent a year of my life at a rescue mission where I took Jesus as my savior and prayer became an important part of my life. It was there that I was introduced to Philippians 4:6 which says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all He has done.” Pray about everything. At first I didn’t understand. Really, everything? Even stuff that doesn’t seem all that important or things that I think I can probably handle on my own just fine or even things that I might find annoying if someone bothered me with it? Yes, everything.
       This verse changed my perspective on prayer. It didn’t say that I could only tell about God the really serious stuff or that there was a limit on how much I could pray. It just said “everything.” So I put this verse to the test. Life at the mission was generally great but there was one thing that I really hated to do and of course I went out of my way to let everybody know it: cooking.
       When I arrived at the mission I knew basically nothing about preparing food that didn’t involve a microwave and before I knew it I was in charge of preparing meals for anywhere between six and eighteen people. To say that I wasn’t good at it would be kind but I was willing to learn, slow as that process was. I worried so much about having to cook and agonized over it until one day someone suggested that I pray about it. I didn’t really know that you could pray about things like that. There was a refrigerator magnet at the mission that had the Philippians 4:6 verse on it so I used it to pin the meal prep schedule to the fridge.
       I started praying and talking with God about how I didn’t like cooking but that I wanted to serve and fulfill my responsibilities. What happened next surprised me. I didn’t magically become a great chef and I didn’t get switched to a different set of duties. No, I was given something better than that. I was given peace. The idea of cooking didn’t cause me anxiety anymore. I was able to slowly get better at it and gain an appreciation for what I was doing.
       I learned that if God cared about helping me with cooking meals in a homeless shelter, then he must care about everything. So that’s when I started praying about all kinds of things in my life no matter how small, mundane, or unimportant they might seem. Everything means everything. Eventually I began to worry a bit less in general and trust God more. Prayer gave me more freedom than I had ever known before and I try to let God know that I’m grateful for all He does for me. I feel like I can’t ever thank Him enough.
So the next time you’re at work and you get stumped on a project or have to do something you’d rather not, try praying. Or if you find that despite your best efforts you’ve booked yourself to be in two places at the same time, pray. And of course when you get into an argument about which is better, PC or Mac, pray. After all, the verse does say everything.

MY YEAR LONG BIBLE ADVENTURE

By Dan Kivett

 

About a year ago I got the sudden urge to read the Bible cover to cover. It had been a few years since I’d read the whole thing and I knew that there was plenty of it that I didn’t really remember that well anymore. I did the math and figured out that if I read 3.25 chapters a day I could get it read in about a year.  Well, the other day I finally finished and my main takeaway was the same as it had been the first time:  I’m gonna need to read it again.

       There is so much to take in that I know I’ll never get it all. To be honest, it can be pretty intimidating to attempt to read the whole thing. I know of several lifelong Christians that have told me they have never read it all and that actually compelled me to do it. As Christians we believe that the Bible is the word of God. I look at it as a gift that God gave me to help me understand Him better. It would be pretty rude to get a gift from the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE and not try to get as much use out of it as I can.
       I’m not saying that everyone should read it the way I did, especially if you are very new to the faith (the Gospels are your friend, trust me). There are probably hundreds of ways to read the Bible and I’ve seen year long plans that make it much more manageable but I guess that’s just not my style. I suppose that I get some odd sort of satisfaction form plowing my way through some of the more difficult to read books like Leviticus or finishing the six week marathon that was Psalms.
       And let me tell you, the joy that I experienced when Jesus finally showed up in my reading after nine months when I started Matthew was very real. I felt… like I was going back home. There was a true feeling of comfort when I started reading the Gospels. Not that I hadn’t seen plenty of Bible verses on Facebook and other things like that throughout the year and of course Jesus is mentioned many times in the Old Testament (it’s fun to try to find Him, sort of like Where’s Waldo but a billion times better).
        Now that I’ve finished it’s time to go back and read the passages that I’ve underlined and examine them a little closer. One of the really neat things about the Bible is that different verses will stand out that never really did before as you read through it. It’s called the Living Word and it’s really cool to see what stands out as time goes by.
        It won’t be long and we’ll be hearing about people making New Year’s resolutions. My suggestion is that you take the time to read the Bible next year. The whole thing. Do it in whatever way makes sense for you. As long as your heart is set on loving God and trying the understand His Word, I don’t know that there’s really a wrong way to do it.