Monday, July 29, 2013

Fear of Man or Trust in God

Sometimes it seems like we are a nation of worriers. Numerous statistics point to high levels of worry and fear in the American population (and we are surely not the only people on this planet to fall prey to this scourge). While there are some in this number who have legitimate worries to deal with or certain psychological maladies that drive their fears, many of us have simply given over our minds to the fear of what others may think of and/or do to us.

In comparison to the very real and very serious spiritual battles being fought by the church today on the fronts of morality and Biblical authority, this may seem like a small concern. However, it is this very fear that entraps and paralyzes the very ones who should be on the front lines of these battles. As soldiers of Christ, we must all make a decision: Will I give myself over to the fear of man or trust in God?

“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”   
(Proverbs 29:25)
 
“The fear of man brings a snare…”
There are many Bible examples of those, even men of great faith, who allowed their fear of men to lead them astray. Abraham twice lied about his true relationship with his wife Sarah out of fear for his life (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-13), and his son Isaac committed the exact same sin some years later for the same reason (Genesis 26:6-10). Many of the rulers of the Jews in Jesus’ time actually believed in Him but let their fear of the Pharisees and their wrath prevent them from publicly confessing and acting on this faith (John 12:42-43). The apostle Peter also fell to this fear – at the trial of Jesus (Luke 22:54-62) and before the Jews visiting Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14).

Fear was obviously a snare to each of these men, hindering them from their work for God. We shouldn’t fail to consider the impact that their fears had on the people around them, though. Their fears laid a snare for so many around them. The men of Egypt and Gerar could have unknowingly made themselves guilty of adultery. Many other Jews, including Barnabas, followed Peter’s example in rejecting the uncircumcised Gentile Christians, possibly opening up rifts in the brotherhood that would take time and care to heal. And how many more Jews might have opened their hearts and ears to Jesus’ teaching had they seen their leaders willing to make that choice?

“But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
So the life of a Christian should be fear-free, right? Well, not exactly. While we are not to fear man, we are commanded to fear our Lord (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). To many in the world, this may seem counter-intuitive. If God is full of love and mercy (and He is – John 3:16), what place is there for fear? And if fear paralyzes, how can it be at all useful in our service to God?

The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is clean,” more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:9-10). The preacher in Ecclesiastes lists it as part of man’s whole purpose in this life (Ecclesiastes 12:13), what makes this life worth living in the midst of so much vanity. To reconcile all of these truths we must recognize the impact the target of the fear has on its character. To fear man paralyzes, but to fear God motivates deeper and greater growth and service. There cannot be wisdom or righteousness without fear of God (Psalms 111:10; 36:1). Likewise, with the first century Christians, “the comfort of the Holy Spirit” and growth of the church is fundamentally linked with “walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31).

Here’s the secret: God does not want or expect our fear of Him to be housed in the realm of terror. He has no desire for a people who sit cowering in fear of Him. His desire is for a people who have a healthy respect (yes, this entails fear) for His power and authority (Hebrews 10:31) but who couple this respect with an understanding of His mercy and love (1 John 4:17-19). Just as with our earthly parents, obedience to our heavenly Father is borne of a combination of our fear of punishment and our desire to please and serve the One who loves and blesses us. Thus, the combination of fear and love for God in a Christian’s heart leads to trust in Him.

And it is this trust that brings safety. Safe here does not necessarily mean physical safety but spiritual safety. Perhaps ‘security’ would best describe the concept under consideration. Because the God we serve is strong enough to save out of the midst of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-25), the lion’s den (Daniel 6:10-23), and in battles with the worst possible odds (1 Samuel 17). There may be great sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33) and perhaps even death, but nothing except our own choices can separate us from His love and care (Romans 8:31-39). An understanding of this and the kind of trust and faith it provokes within us surely provides the motivation to endure anything to attain that “crown of righteousness” which awaits all the faithful in heaven (2 Timothy 4:6-8). And therein lies the truest and fullest concept of safety that we can ever imagine or attain – eternal rest in God’s presence. Read Revelation 21-22. Can there be any question that “whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe”?

God promises not to forsake His faithful (Hebrews 13:5), so we have nothing to fear from this world. Persecution, pain, and physical death are small when compared with the joy that heaven will bring (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4).

“So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”   
(Hebrews 13:6)
 
Let our lives show that we believe this. Let us be bold in our service to Him. And let us shine forth as beacons in the midst of the darkness of fear that threatens to drown those around us that they may see a better way, a better life, than the one they have chosen.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Friday, July 26, 2013

A New Perspective on Things

It’s funny the perspective that the passing of another year can bring…

Sunday was my 31st birthday, and I can honestly say that I could never have expected a year ago to be where I am now. In that short period of time, I have fallen in love, left a job, gotten married, and moved away from the state that has been my home since I was born. So much change in such little time!!!

I was thinking about this as I was walking the dogs late last week. The last few months have been a lesson in faith and patience for me, a lesson that I desperately needed but was fighting against internalizing. About a month after I moved here to Florida, I started putting in job applications, starting slow at first and then increasing exponentially as I continued to receive little to no response. As days, then weeks, then months, went by with no job to show for my effort, I was starting to get frustrated with myself and with the whole process. Matt was wonderful in his encouragement and support, but I struggled with self-doubt. I knew that this was an opportunity to both demonstrate and build my faith in God’s willingness and ability to provide for those who trust in Him, but I wanted so badly to be able to help pay off some of our debt, specifically the fairly significant educational debt that I brought into the marriage. With each application that went out with no response, the thought grew stronger and stronger in my head: I know what the result will be. Why even bother?

So I was walking the dogs last week, thinking about my upcoming birthday and how much my life had changed in just a year, when a new thought made me stop and smile…

If so much can change so quickly, why am I wasting my time and energy worrying excessively about something that can change at any moment?

I realized that I was taking the circumstances of my present moment and assuming that they would always be that way. How silly a thought, though, when I knew firsthand how quickly things could change! There is no way any of us can know what the next moment of our lives hold.

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you out to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”  (James 4:13-15)
 
James 4 talks about the foolishness inherent in the assumption that life will continue on as it always has. The foolishness is not in the making of plans for the days ahead but in the approach to life that assumes that I am in control. It’s a perspective that can permeate so deeply that you don’t even realize that you are living by it. But all of a sudden, your timeline is most important; your measure of what is good is the standard; your expectations are what need to be met to be happy. Here’s the thing, though: my timeline doesn’t really matter, my measure of what is good is only as sound as the assumptions I have built it on, and my expectations of what I need to be happy can be completely warped by the influence of the world.

So after that walk, I decided that I was going to fix my perspective. I was going to keep doing my part in submitting applications, but I was going to stop viewing each rejection as a disappointment and start viewing it as just another stepping stone in the path that I am walking for Christ. No matter how long it would take to find a job, or even if I never found one at all, my focus would remain firmly set on living each day in service to my husband and to my Lord.

Remember how I said how quickly things can change, though…
I got a job this week. :)

I praise God for His mercies and His patience with me, and I thank Him for blessing me with the means to help out my family in each and every way that I can. And I thank Matt for his patience with and encouragement for me and for being such a hard worker and good provider for the two of us. I’m looking forward to seeing all the changes this coming year has in store for us!

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Friday, July 19, 2013

“Rise Up and Walk”

"Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, 'Look at us.' So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.' And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them - walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him." (Acts 3:1-10)

The story of the healing of this lame man, in so many ways, echoes the numerous other accounts of miraculous healings performed by Jesus and His disciples during their ministry. In case after case, we see someone who has been greatly afflicted find relief at the hand of God's workers, resulting in great joy in the one healed and great amazement in those who witnessed it. The parallels of this man's story to those who have been redeemed from sin have stood out in particular for me, though.

Like this man sitting and begging at the Beautiful Gate, we, for so long, spent our lives begging after the things we expected to bring us happiness. And just as this man must have sometimes received what he was asking for (or else why would he have expected it from Peter and John?), most of us have attained at least some of those things that we have been begging after only to find that they cannot fully sustain us and that we end up having to beg after these things daily. 

But then we hear the invitation, "Rise and walk" (Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4). When we take His extended hand and allow Him to lift us up, immediately we receive the strength we need to so walk (Matthew 11:28-30). Yes, we receive the yoke of Christ, but in doing so we lay aside the terrible chains of sin (Romans 6:15-23). 

This man's story did not end when he was healed, though. Consider his reaction: joy, praise, and manifestation of a difference evident to all. But is this where the similarities between this man's physical healing and my (or your) spiritual healing end? 

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15)

"Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all." (1 Timothy 4:15)

The Bible is filled with passages that make it clear that the change in our lives - our choices, our perspectives, our purposes and goals, etc. - should be such that others can see it. In fact, it should amaze them (just as with the lame man), that they want to know the source/drive behind such a change. And this is to be a continual growth process. Of course, we are not to do anything for the purpose of being seen by men (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18), but when we are truly living a Christ-centered life, people will certainly notice (Acts 4:13). 

So what about me? And what about you? Has the call to 'rise and walk' been heeded? And if so, is it obvious for the world to see - in my/your life, joy, hope, and peace? Give glory to God for His mercy and healing and continue to walk as He would have you to (Ephesians 4:1; 1 John. 2:6).

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The 3 P’s (and 1 B) of Loving Our Dogs

While I have always had good intentions, I have not really been the best at helping my pets get the exercise they needed to be healthy. So when I moved to Florida, I made it a goal to do at least one walk through the neighborhood every day. With Yogi, it was really easy; adding Rangler has made things a bit more interesting.

Rangler is twice Yogi’s size and a little over a quarter of his age, so to say that they often want to go at different paces is an understatement. They are also both determined to sniff out and follow every new scent that comes their way, not to mention the instant reaction if a squirrel or cat happen to run by. I usually walk them by myself after Matt goes to work, so it has taken some training (for both them and me!) to begin to find the balance that allows each of us to get what we need out of the walk without me coming back completely exhausted and frustrated by the whole experience.

Along the way, I have found a few things that are essential to get through these walks, not to mention all the other fun experiences that our dogs have been blessing us with recently - like Rangler getting an ulcer on the eye from getting too excited and running headfirst into a plastic tote or Yogi getting an irritated spot on his leg and licking the fur and top layer of skin right off of it… both within a couple of weeks of us going out of town for a week.

1. Patience:

When you have a fifty pound dog pulling you forward and a thirty pound dog who refuses to budge from the shady spot he’s found, it can be hard to hold your temper and your tongue. It’s in moments like these that patience has become so necessary for me. I love the definition of patience as given on Dictionary.com: “quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence” – I love that the focus is on the attitude of the person and not on the annoyance or trial that they are facing. Patience is both moment-specific and an enduring characteristic.

So when I’m with the dogs, I must learn to have patience in the immediate situation, now allowing myself to get frustrated but to stay positive and encouraging. (More on that in a minute!) I must also learn that each moment instills training for the next, and thus I must have patience in allowing Yogi, Rangler, and myself to learn and get better on the very things that are frustrating me now. The bonus is that this new perspective has opened my eyes to see that things are getting better with each walk!

2. Positivity:

I debated with myself for a while on which must come first – patience or positivity. In the end, I realized that the only way I could possibly stay consistent in a positive attitude was to commit myself to have patience. Otherwise, I would quickly get frustrated and more negative with the dogs, and anyone who is a pet owner knows that our animals don’t tend to respond as well to training and direction that is overly harsh. Once I was able to build up my patience, though, I found it much easier to use softer tones in disciplining and myself much more likely to laugh off the minor annoyances that used to drive me crazy.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the benefits of this attitude in the dog’s behavior as well. In the time since I have committed myself to positivity around them, I have started to see a calming of some of those negative habits which they were exhibiting before. It’s like my stress and anxiety translated to them and only drove them to more destructive behaviors. And in the end, dogs are going to be dogs, and I and my family have a long history of finding some of the quirkiest among the lot. So why not take the approach of setting appropriate limits and learning to laugh about the rest, right? :)

3. Prayer:

To be honest, this was the “P” that I neglected for far longer than I should have. I guess my thought was that prayer should be reserved for more serious concerns, not venting my aggravations about my animals. Two things, though, went a long way in showing me the error of my thinking: (1) I needed God’s help in controlling my attitude, especially if I didn’t want my frustrations to spill out into other areas of my life, and (2) God cares for every area of my life and He cares for those two dogs He has given me too.

When I started praying about my interactions with and approach to caring for Yogi and Rangler, I felt such an encouragement in knowing that even the things with them that feel so much out of my control had now been passed up to the throne of my loving Father. I felt closer to Him in knowing that He hears and cares about even my most mundane worries, and I felt more dedicated and empowered to make the changes that I knew I needed to make in myself.

4. The “B” – A Break!

Matt and I were in Boston all of last week for his work conference. We had a wonderful dog-sitter who took such good care of them that I could enjoy Matt and my trip without having to worry about how things were going at home. Having that week to relax and refresh did wonders for me and my interactions with the dogs! In the days since we’ve been back, I have seen a marked improvement both in my attitude and in the dogs’ behavior. Our walks have gone back to being the daily blessing that they once were for me, just at a time when I so needed them to.

While I unfortunately cannot justify a weeklong vacation every time the dogs’ start to act out, I have learned an important lesson to step back and seek out some sort of rejuvenation in the midst of frustrations, whatever they might be.

 IMG_20130718_103243  102_0849

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love these two and am so blessed to be given responsibility over them. I pray that I can do them justice and do my part in giving them a happy and peaceful life in our family. :)

Thanks for stopping by!
~ Erin ~

Friday, July 5, 2013

Learning from Loving Our Dogs

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This is Yogi. He’s around 7 years old and was a rescue from an animal shelter in the town I lived in at the time. He’s a corgi-beagle mix and full of personality. There is nothing quite like having those brown eyes with that permanent “eye-liner” looking dolefully up at you when you’re trying to scold him for tearing down the blinds, completely emptying his pillow or one of his toys of its stuffing, or ignoring you when you when you tell him that it’s time to come inside. He’s a great dog and has been a good friend to me through a lot of changes through the years he’s been with me.

RanglerThis is Rangler. He’s the new addition to our family and has been an extra jolt of energy in the month that we’ve had him. He’s a lab-pit bull mix, 1 1/2 years old with all the energy and playfulness you would expect from a dog his breed and age. Matt (my wonderful husband) wanted a bigger dog that could keep up with him. (Yogi is more of the ‘I’ll lie here while you rub my belly’ type of dog.) We saw Rangler on Craigslist, and as soon as we met him, we knew that he would fit the bill of what we were looking for perfectly. He’s a great mix of playful and loving – he may flop over on his back for a belly rub in front of you right in the middle of a game of catch!

These two dogs have been a special blessing in my and my family’s life, and I have learned a lot from working with them. Since that’s really the whole spirit of this blog, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to grow to do a series of posts on things that I have learned from loving and caring for these dogs. I’m going to talk about how these dogs have helped me gain a greater appreciation for patience, positivity, and prayer; how they have helped me see the value and necessity for a proper balance of encouragement and discipline; how they have opened my eyes to both the challenges and joys of having two very different dogs in my life; and all the many other lessons that I’m sure they have for me. :)

Thanks for stopping by!
~ Erin ~