Sunday, December 30, 2018

what are you afraid of?

What kinds of things are you afraid of? The dark? Heights? Perhaps like me, you turn into a ninja when walking through a spider web. You know what I mean! It doesn't matter if you are in skinny  jeans and heals. The flexibility and form that comes forth when those webs appear, could almost put Chuck Norris to shame. Maybe, as a child, you were afraid of the monster under your bed or in your closet. I’m sure we could  make a pretty long list of all of our fears - irrational and the like.

But what about our deepest fears? Those fears that rattle our nerves. When someone asks us to share something deep, the walls go up. A relationship could be going great until that question gets asked. You are doing just fine in the shallow end of the pool with your floaties - no need to go to that deep end. It always seems to come up when a small group is just beginning because, as an ice breaker, we usually share our stories. When it comes to our personal stories - our past, present and even the future - you might be able to talk someone’s ear off, and even laugh, about your fear of spiders but, when it comes down to sharing a piece of your past, you shake your head and think, it’s not worth sharing. Nope. You don’t need to know that.

I want to share with you my story of fear and how God redeemed that piece of my life. You see, sharing my story wasn’t always easy. I remember sitting in small group (like the example shared above) and we would go around the circle as each of us would share more about ourselves. Every once in awhile, someone would share something very personal that they were working on and it would even lead them to reveal something from their past because it was effecting this moment in their life but, when it would come around to me I would give answers that were something like: “Oh I’m just fine.” “Oh that’s just how I am” “I’m not ready to share all that.” “You don’t need to know that part of my life because it’s over and in the past.”

While that might be true, what we have been through and then leading into the moment we gave our lives to Jesus, can be such a beautiful way to share about the hope we have.

As a matter of fact, 1 Peter 3:14-15 is a great piece of scripture that tells us what to do with the hope we have. Let me give you some context with this scripture because, it truly enlightens me to the life circumstance, the people were in, when Peter wrote these words. He is encouraging and instructing a group of Christians who are facing persecution from authority figures for their faith.  Do you ever feel like you would face persecution because of your faith? That’s a fear. 

Now, let’s read what Peter says in regards to facing persecution and sharing:
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened." but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:14-15 NIV
Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have and, do this with gentleness and respect. Those words were added because of who this group of people were having to answer to - the authority figures who would, in the end, persecute them for what they would share. That would be another talk for another time, in regards to persecution but, it is important to get the full context of what that means.

Let’s just rest for a minute on the phrase “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have.” While this was a message for a specific group, in a specific time, just like any other story or encouragement or teaching in the bible, I believe that this is relevant for today. If you have found hope in Jesus Christ, you get to share that with others.

But what if sharing that hope means you have to “go there” with your story?

Do you know what that "there" is? It's the pivotal moment when you take off the robe and stand vulnerable. In a way, we can relate it to bearing all because, that is what it feels like in the moment. We don't get to hide behind the accolades and achievements. There comes a moment for each believer when, we are faced with sharing a piece of our story that includes some tender moments. Here is my story:

When I was just getting tight with Jesus and really enjoying all the changes going on within me and meeting some amazing new friends and just loving the heart change and joyful I was feeling, there was a time that came when I was questioned about this change - about this joy I now had. A friend approached me about this joy and wanted to know what I had been doing to achieve it. 

Well, I could answer that! Jesus! He changed me!

Her next question, "Jesus? Okay, well, how?"

My answer, "By… making me a better person. By forgiving me of my sins. Making me new and whole!"

Her next question, because my attempt to end the conversation and move on failed, "Well, how did he make you new?"

I had such an awesome opportunity to open wide the door and share about the true HOW but, my fear took over. I knew I would scare her away with the honest truth so, my reply was, "He just did. It's hard to explain because it's so personal." 

I was afraid. I was filled with shame. And I was afraid that if I admitted what had happened to me as a child, the listening would stop right there. We wouldn’t even get to the good part. And so, I would skip it. But, I'm not afraid anymore and here is a piece of my story - 

You see, as a child, I was molested by a family member. As a result, I grew up with a skewed view on what a sibling relationship looked like and I was ashamed of what had happened to me. Especially when I still couldn’t understand it all. Did I let it happen? Was I to blame? Did I ask for it? I mean, it was  him. And then all the skewed views on sex and intimate relationships entered in.  I felt alone and isolated. I must be the only person on this planet who has had this happen because, no one else is talking about it so, that makes me scarred and a reject. Through out my youth and early young adult years, I would carry the shame of this with me until I let Jesus in to wash me clean.

When it came to sharing this part of my past, fear and shame gripped me so tightly. I just knew people would look at me as if I was dirty. They would label me and think, “how could she have hope? She’s been tainted.” I struggled with this for a long time. I would get just so close to people and then, when it came to that point of possibly opening up, I would put up the wall. The relationship would no longer be authentic and real and it would eventually dissolve.

I knew that I wasn’t honoring God with my story because I was leaving out a very important part. In fact, there were a few key parts I wasn’t letting God in on.

I didn’t trust God with my story. I wouldn’t let Him take full control over what I had been through. I was afraid to open that old wound. No… no… I don’t need to go there again! It’s in the past! It’s over! Done! It doesn’t affect who I am today! Besides, if He loves me, why would He want me to "go there" again and experience all that pain again? 

I didn’t trust others with my story. How could I live an authentic life with fellow believers if I wasn't honest with them? I knew that my past affected quite a large chunk of my life and it was the reason for my identity issues and many of the choices I made growing up. So, of course, it had a significant role when it came to sharing about the reason or the hope that I have. But, I still didn't trust what their reactions would be. 

I didn’t trust myself with my story. Years past, I used my story to manipulate. I found out that when things weren’t going my way, I could make people feel sorry for me. I didn’t want that to happen anymore because since giving my life to Jesus, I didn’t need that validation. So, why bother? Right? And besides, even if I didn't mean to manipulate, they would still think that. 

Well, as I considered all the reasons why I wasn’t sharing my story, I knew that they weren’t from God. But, how could I get to this place of understanding that I didn’t need to be afraid? That this shame was not from God; it was the enemy taking advantage of this weakness within me. The enemy loves fear and shame. He wants us to drown in it! 

God wants us to live in His grace and strength. There is some beautiful scripture in the bible that talks about how God loves us and how He sees us and it’s all amazing stuff. There is one in particular that grabbed my attention.

Psalm 139 is a beautiful prose When I was doing some research on this, I came across this little paragraph that describes the Psalm like this:

“some of the Jewish doctors are of opinion that this is the most excellent of all the psalms of David; and a very pious devout meditation it is upon the doctrine of God’s omniscience, which we should therefore have our hearts fixed upon and filled with in singing this psalm.” source: blueletterbible.org

Wow. That caught my attention. The most excellent of psalms. Let's read it together out of the NIV:
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
So good. I want to sit on a particular verse here. It’s one that revolutionized how I feel about my story. And about that fear that held me back from truly giving it all to Jesus and having the courage to share with others because it really does connect with the HOPE that I have!

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Let’s just sit on that for a minute. WE are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knows all about us. Inside and outside. He knew us because he created us. He knew us in our mothers womb and he knows what will be coming out of our mouths before we even think it. How mind boggling is that? He knows the number of hairs on our heads for goodness sake.

When I was teaching, I asked my PreK students if they knew how many hairs they had on their heads. Of course they know. Because they are five but, seriously, when I got them thinking about it, I watched their eyes grow big. Even at five years old, they get it

Another thing I use to do when I taught was memorize this piece of scripture with my students. We used the New International Readers Version and I love how it puts these verses:

“How you made me is amazing and wonderful. I praise you for that. 
What you have done is wonderful. I know that very well.”

Listen, when I got into this piece of scripture some things starting rocking my world.

My God KNOWS me. He knows me. He knows what happened to me as a child. None of that was hidden from him. He wept with me. He comforted me. He knew that it was awful. He knew exactly how I felt.  (Hebrews 4:13)

My God LOVES me. He created me. Of course He loves me! He sacrificed His one and only son for me. It's an undeserving love. It's an unconditional kind of love!

My God SEES me. He sees me. Sometimes that’s all we need. We just need someone to see us. Notice us. Care for us. Make us feel special.
(Isaiah 41:10)



When I gave my life to Jesus, I knew I was seen. And loved. And known. When I truly grasped those thoughts, it gave me the courage to take that step. That step that would have me shaking with fear but, I knew, it was the right choice. 

I shared my story for the first time, one on one, with a leader from church. I was ready for the judgment. I was ready to be an outcast. But, I didn’t receive anything like that. Instead, God had taken that moment and turned it into something beautiful. I was not judged. I was not labeled. I was not pushed away.

I was loved.
I was validated.
I was encouraged.

Because of that, it set me on fire. Listen, when I get the go signal, I go. I’m like a cat that just went poop in the litter box. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’ve never had a cat! Ha! I use to have a cat named Nalla and I always knew she had just taken a poo because she would come ripping through the house and be as happy as can be! I mean it was like that girl had just received a lighter load and she was celebrating!

I know that’s not the most beautiful example but, I work with kids… poo is poo is poo. Maybe you have a more glamorous and, somewhat, appropriate example. Ha!

I came across some wise words, recently, from Lisa Bevere and they capture exactly what i learned when I share my story:

“The Past is a Place of Reference. Not a place of residence.”

My fear of shame stemmed from me thinking that by sharing my story, I had to live it over and over. But, that was not the case. Me sharing that piece of my story was a reference to others to share that our God is a loving God who can redeem, restore, heal, make new, and forgive all these things.

I’m not living through what happened to me back then. I get to celebrate with others the fact that Jesus is my all. And what he is doing now in my life. Instead of going one direction with my life, I’m going another. A good direction. The straight and narrow direction. The direction full of love and joy and peace and hope.

I don’t know your story. That seems like such a cliché thing to write. Of course I don’t know all your stories but, I say this because today, is a day, that I have been praying for. For you and for me. We don’t need to live in the fears that are holding us back from living out our faith. Share about the hope that you have and why. Then, sit back and watch God move. Through those around you. And you.