Knocking on Heaven’s Doors

An oily, forehead mark on a glass door tells a story.   Years ago, a salesman spent time in our home, pitching for us to buy his product.  When he realized we’d not be allowing him beyond our foyer, he opened our interior front door with a gusto saying, “Well, thanks anyway for your time.” In his haste to make a quick exit, he forgot about our second, exterior glass door and plowed into it, full throttle, face first.

The resounding thud startled all three of us and caused him to stagger backwards, towards us.  Ken and I dug deep for every fruit of the Holy Spirit to keep from laughing.  His wire-rimmed glasses bent in two different directions, smashed into his nose and eyebrows.  A red mark formed quickly on his forehead. We expressed our concern (we’d both done the same thing on the same door) and asked him if he’d like to sit down for a moment and fix his glasses.  Like a true door to door champion, he gushed, “Oh, I’m fine, just fine. I’ve got another pair in my car,” and let himself out the door where he proceeded down our sidewalk in a cockeyed fashion.

I’ve let my forehead mark on many doors, physically and metaphorically. We all know that feeling of body slamming a firmly shut door.  We are turned down for job opportunities, relationships, dreams we pursue, organizations in which we desire membership and many other life experiences that involve open and closed doors.  I mean, I tried out for cheerleading and pom poms girls three times before I realized God never designed that into my destiny.

It hurt deeply when friends achieved what I wanted, be it a cheerleader uniform or a lead in a play.  Now I understand that setbacks are part of our training in God’s school of discipleship. Greater humility, a deeper desire to listen to God, discernment and lots of other good stuff can occur during these times.

In some instances, we are on the inside and must endure the pain of being pushed towards an exit which will then shut firmly behind us.  Whether it’s the end of a marriage, career, ministry, home ownership, our health or anything we value, the sting of our departure can stick with us a long time, especially when we didn’t leave by choice.

This month I’ll discuss entrances and exits.  God’s word says much about our ins and outs, ups and downs.  Unlike people, God will never shut a door in our face maliciously, but he does close them. Sometimes, he swings that same door open for us down the road.  Conversely, every lit path isn’t an entrance into adventure with God.  An appealing opportunity can turn out to be an unwanted side trip away from our destiny.

How do we find our way to the doors God designed for us to walk through and minimize smashing ourselves into an unmoving object?  Here’s a few guidelines:

  • God’s opportunities never contradict his Word.

I’m concerned when people plow through God’s boundaries to walk through a doorway.  Marrying an unbeliever, engaging in an unethical business venture, sacrificing your health or family relationships, becoming unfaithful in church attendance and service to others are all things I’ve observed people do for the sake of a great opportunity.

God will never invite you to work alongside him in a way that leads you to disobey his commands and principles.  If you are currently engaged with someone or something that causes you to behave like the world, ask God for the way out.  You are walking a hard path that will not end well.  “Good judgement wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction.” Proverbs 13:15

  • God’s opportunities can start with small beginnings.

 

During the end of my years as an educator, I sought to teach English.  I’d been a minister of music for many years and taught vocal music and piano for many more. I longed to flex the Language Arts Degree I’d worked for so diligently.  I turned down jobs to teach vocal music again until one came along I felt no peace about rejecting.  Once again, I started up as a music educator and gave it my all, but my heart still longed to teach writing, literature and poetry. In the Spring of my first year, my principal unexpectedly asked me if I’d like to take over sophomore English classes for the upcoming year and beyond.  Boy, did I, and loved it until the day God led me on to the next thing.

 

Sometimes, we overlook an open door because it’s small.  Ken and I say that we never want to miss Jesus riding on a donkey. The Jews of Jesus’ time believed the Messiah’s coming to be a momentous earthly event.  They believed he’d overthrow the Roman government and rule the world in their here and now.  Clearly, they didn’t study the O.T. prophets well, as Jesus fulfilled every prophecy made about him. People living alongside Jesus, missed the King of Kings, walking and riding in their midst.

 

Be careful not to miss something God brings your way because it doesn’t look exactly like you imagined.  My pastor often tells the stories of his early days as an evangelist, sleeping in Sunday School rooms and being paid with offerings that featured more “love,” than money.  My husband’s successful run as the owner of an insurance agency started with him applying for the job of office manager.

 

Next time, we’ll examine more ideas for discerning God’s purposes and will for us. Between now and then, check out the lives of the Apostle Paul, (Acts and the Epistles) the apostle John (Revelation), King David (2nd Samuel) and Joseph (Genesis).  These great faith heroes all imagined their lives rolling a lot differently than the paths God chose for them.  Greatness in the kingdom comes hand in hand with sacrifice, obedience and faith.

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Fear in the Darkness

Fear is a wilderness where the wild things live.  Creatures hide in the forests of our trials, watching, waiting.  They are our untamed thoughts teamed up with awful circumstances and attacking us savagely. We might question God, his Word, his character, our ability to hear from Him and our own mental status.  The ferocious beasts which assault us from within and without are lasered onto one goal- steal, kill and destroy.

Whenever your God-given joy, peace and power are at stake, you know you’re in a dogfight with the enemy. Any time I’m being driven by a fear-related emotion it’s going to be a tough trip.  A journey through a dark time is painful enough.  Allowing fear to be my guide makes it worse.  In my last post I shared a couple strategies to help you re-establish yourself when you sense fear is controlling you to any degree.  Here’s a couple more I hope will help.

  • Discern whether you should fight or take flight.

Physically, fear triggers our God-given “fight or flight” response so that we may survive dangerous circumstances.  Chemicals are released that enable us to run or to stay and launch a counter attack.  The problem is, most of our modern-day battles are not with an enemy soldier or a wild animal. Our conflicts consist of things like family dysfunction, joblessness, divorce, church strife, sickness and disease and other circumstances that create a fear response in us.

 

Although we might like to use our fear-induced energy to pop someone in the nose or blow something up, those options aren’t usually available to us.  Consequently, we make a habit of stuffing down everything we feel inside when we are frightened. Physical problems like ulcers, jaw pain, muscle cramps, headaches and other physical symptoms you might not associate with fear, start to manifest.

 

Rather than stifling your response, cry out to God and ask him whether this is someplace you stand and wage war or leave it behind in the dust.  What that looks like depends on your personality and need. At times, during a panic attack, saying verses out loud and singing worship songs only agitated me further.  I needed to go into a quiet place with God and mentally escape the frightening circumstances.  In a traffic jam, for example, I took deep breaths in and out saying something like “I’m breathing in all the fruit of the Holy Spirit and breathing out all the work of the flesh and my enemy.”  On rocky airplane rides, I’d disappear into a land of peaceful instrumental worship songs via digital devices and headphones.  These techniques slowed my heartbeat and other physical responses and I basically flew away and filled my mind with good things.

 

There are other situations though, when I stand and fight.  I march around, dance, shout and sing praise songs, clap my hands and let the enemy know that I’m pushing back hard against the fear stronghold he’s trying to establish in my life.  I call up memorized verses and songs to fling back at him.  After a time, I end up, emotionally, in a completely different place than where I started.

 

If you’re in a long-term challenge, ask God to give you specific techniques to execute your fight or flight response.  Don’t ignore it, use it.

 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  Psalm 94:19

 

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31:6

 

  • Guard your tongue

How does Satan know what you’re afraid of?  He watches your actions and listens to your words.  I could kick myself for all the years I created to do lists for my enemy by repeatedly stating all the things that scared me, made me anxious, etc.  He takes note every time we say something like “I’m so afraid that….   I’m so stressed about……  I can’t sleep at night because I’m so worried about….”

 

Don’t shove feelings down and pretend you aren’t afraid. Instead, be genuine about what you’re feeling, framed by what is true about God and your relationship with Him.  Nowadays, I say things like, “I’m so tempted to be fearful about_____________ but I know God is good, and His hand is good towards me.  He will keep me, provide for me, heal me and comfort me.”  I make very specific statements based on what I’m up against and using scriptures as my talking points. I stole the idea from Psalm 43:5 “Why, my soul, are you so downcast?”  I’m talking to my soul, the seat of my mind, will and emotions, and leading it back to a place of peaceful faith. Frankly, I’m just getting too old to keep burning up organs in my body with unresolved emotional stuff and wasting my years on earth out of step with God.

 

Some days, you might need to do a come to Jesus with your soul a hundred times.  Do it.  It’s worth it.

 

Changing a fearful mind to a peaceful one is laborious but it is God’s best will for us.  There are so many anointed Christian books that share numerous strategies for this war.  Get online and find one that’s right for you.  Here are two of my favorites:

 

The Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer- this is one of her older books but a true powerhouse in lining up your thoughts with God’s character and word.

 

Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard- a beautiful allegory about a little lamb named “Much-afraid” and her journey with the Good Shepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

Love versus Fear

“I can’t make it, I can’t make it,” I hollered at Ken.  He lurched our car onto the shoulder of I-80, somewhere in the middle of Iowa.  Thank God, there’s lots of pigs and corn in Iowa cause I sure needed a cornfield that day. Use your imagination.

I’ve previously shared my struggles with almost becoming an agoraphobic, afraid to leave my home unless I could totally control my travel and destination circumstances.  In my case, that became a co-conspirator with a challenged digestive tract, which reacted quickly every time I experienced a panic attack.  Not only did I experience heart attack-like symptoms, I needed to be certain that restrooms could be ready at a moments notice.  Yup, that made traveling worlds of fun for a few years.  Ken became very adept at delivering me to the nearest rest stop, cornfield, restaurant, store and even the homes of strangers a couple times.

In my case, 95% of all my panic attack symptoms were rooted in my biology, not my mind, but they sure did mess with my head and heart for several years.  Fear can do that.  When it overtakes you, shakes you hard and leaves you breathless in a cornfield, it’s hard not to feel like a failure.   Everyone will experience moments like that during their journey on this side of the veil.

I don’t know what kinds of fears you might be tempted by today.  That shaken, breathless feeling can relate to something as ferocious as cancer or as niggling as a friend ignoring your texts.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter what prompts a fear response in you, but if you aren’t armed and ready for it, it’s amazing how fast it can take you down to the mat.

Here’s a few truths about standing up to fear I gathered along the way which I’ll share in this post and the next:

  • God is always in control in your circumstance.

Although the Father will allow us to pass through some wild storms, he is still The Master.  It’s in those moments when I feel unnerved that I’ve recognized I must hunker down in my spirit.  Stating truth from the Word, starts to calm and center me.  Pretty sure life seemed crazy for Job amid losing everything, but heaven’s perspective looked completely different.  The same is true for you and me.  When small winds or large gales of fear start to blow over your soul, it’s time to bring out your Spirit Sword so you can get up in your enemy’s grill and flick his trash talk aside.  Here’s two of my favorites: Psalm 46:1-2, Isaiah 41:10

  • Share your battle with trusted friends and family.

Fear thrives in darkness, so it can be  beneficial to drag it out into the light.  Part of my healing journey included sharing my battles with key individuals and asking them to pray for me.  When you are being whipped around like a chew toy in a dog’s mouth, it’s hard to think straight.  What a wonderful thing it is to hear family members and friends praying Scripture over you when your mind is too rattled to recall a single verse.  Even when I’ve entered tough situations alone, I am strengthened and comforted by the intercession I know is rising on my behalf. I feel more courageous and less intimidated.

One of the most wonderful benefits of our coming heavenly lives is that we will never be afraid again.  How do I know this?  I John 4:18 tells us there is no fear with perfect love.  We will be living in the presence of Perfect Love throughout eternity, therefore fear cannot exist.  God wants us to experience a taste of that part of heaven on earth, here and now.  His all-consuming, fiery love for us wants to burn up the paper walls our enemy is continually trying to construct all around us.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I’m not saying your fears aren’t real or valid, I’m saying God’s love is greater and stronger.  Press into him today and let him talk to you about your anxieties and worries.  He is not only perfect in his love but in wisdom, knowledge and power.  All of it is always available to any child of God, no matter what may come against you today.   

 

Fear is a Snake

Fear is a boa constrictor.  It slithers into our minds and tightens its grip until it suffocates our peace and joy.  Sometimes snakes drop out of trees unexpectedly, other times they glide from shadows, barely noticed.  Once a snake finds a way in, it’s tough to get it out. Friends in warmer climates share chilling stories of unexpected encounters with hazardous reptiles only resolved with professional help.

When a boa drops from a tree, we should be frightened.  Car accidents, natural disasters, home invasions, battlefields and the like will land on our paths in this earthly jungle.  A fear response to danger is a healthy trigger God devised in us to survive a fallen world. The problem is, once the immediate threat is resolved, Satan schemes to keep that fear response going perpetually.  He loves to make hay on the normal emotional impact we experience after a fright.

We become fearful of similar situations and alter our lives.  The boa constricts more tightly, and we develop phobias.  We can’t cross bridges, handle traffic, elevators. etc.   Many years ago, I almost became an agoraphobic, afraid to leave my apartment.  Others develop ulcers, migraines and such as they struggle to feel “normal” again after a terrifying experience.  Our precious veterans often come home with severe struggles due to the terrors they endured while deployed.

Fear is one of Satan’s most powerful tools. If he can’t find a way to make a frontal assault, he’ll send the snake on a stealth mission.  Dread and worry are more subtle forms of distress, yet they are just as insidious. They wriggle themselves into our thinking so gradually, we let them be a pet.  No judgement here, but choosing a deadly snake as a house pet seems risky.  Snakes gotta eat.  If it means escaping their enclosure and eating you, they are not opposed.

We dread dealing with certain people.  We dread getting old.  We dread going to work. We dread facing a surgery.   We worry about our children and our aging parents.  We worry about our health and our finances.  We worry about our country and our jobs.  Hear my heart, as a former semi-pro dreader and worrier.    I’m not judging you. I want to encourage you towards the path of abundant, joy-filled life God intended for you.  

Here’s some tools to conquer fear which I acquired in my own school of hard, hard knocks.

  • Recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear. Some folks manage this on their own, able to move beyond an event and feel whole again.  Others get stuck.  I encourage people to speak to a pastor or professional counselor if they can’t seem to recover their emotional equilibrium.   Don’t allow pride to keep you from seeking help. Some of you are going through long term events like cancer battles, divorce, and other situations that do not resolve quickly. I found it healing to spend time with wise individuals who validated reasonable emotions and assisted me in regaining a positive mindset.

 

  • Don’t make excuses for crippling fear and its cousins. Too many people see worry as a badge of honor, which makes you a good parent, employee, boss or whatever.  Although we may normalize worry in our culture, it is not normal for a child of God.  It demonstrates a lack of faith and displeases God. (Mark 4:40, Mark 6:6)

Concerning dread, watch your words this week and see how many times you say, think or feel, “Ugh, I dread…….”  We can fill in the blank with things as large as a surgical procedure or as small as mowing the lawn.  Our paths are sometimes rocky and steep, other times flat, dry and endless through tasks and situations we’d avoid, left to our own devices.  God uses it all to make us look and sound more like Jesus.  When we keep the mindset that all circumstances pass through God’s hands before they touch us, we can remain hopeful and sweet in the worst situations.  Our Good Shepherd leads us through dark valleys and treacherous climbs with the promise that we will lack nothing and are followed by his goodness and mercy. (Psalm 23)

 

  • Confess sin.

If fear is a brutal master or a cherished pet in our souls, we are not controlled by the Holy Spirit in those areas.  We are not able to discern things rightly because fear is making decisions for us.  Things as small as dreading and complaining about an unpleasant chore can hinder your intimacy with God.  Right now, there’s about 20 yards of stone in my front yard, waiting to be moved before I can plant gardens.  I’ve complained about it and dreaded it for months until the Lord spoke to me about this foothold I freely gave to my enemy.

 

Recently, I allowed myself the foolish luxury of worrying about a shoulder injury and knee problem my husband’s been contending with.  We are believing God will heal him one way or another, but I slipped into some old habits during this time in God’s waiting room.  I recognized the sorrow I caused God by not trusting him to care for Ken perfectly.

 

  • Tear down fear strongholds.

Some of my family heritage includes professional fretters.  When you see fear normalized in childhood, it becomes a stronghold that you don’t see as such until God puts his finger on it.  Maybe that’s what this post is doing for you today.  Ask God to sever any cords of sin in this area that run between you and your family.  This is not you being disloyal, it’s acknowledging that we all inherit righteous and unrighteous behaviors from our families.

 

God will reveal fear strongholds you built with no help from anyone, if you ask him.  Demolishing these structures is not a one and done deal.  Speech, thought and behavior patterns wrap themselves around strongholds inside of you. There needs to be a process of learning to think, speak and act differently when confronted with fear prompting situations.

 

Refer back to the first post in this series for a list of scripture you can use to tear down strongholds and face fear.   Next time I’ll share how God changed my walk and talk in this area.

 

 

 

 

Kicking Fear to the Curb

 

The dark shadow glided up the stairs towards my daughter’s bedroom.  Relentlessly, it crossed the landing and entered her bedroom.  My screams and frantic leap from bed startled my husband, Ken, awake.  “Sharon, wait,” he hollered while I flew down the hallway towards the shadow.  No slouch himself, he rolled out of bed and down the hall so quickly, he managed to stop me before I woke up our sleeping child, again.

A reoccurring dream about a dark form stealing my daughter away in the night, tormented me for years.  Every time my conscious mind accepted it as reality and responded accordingly, I scared the soup out of Ken. A couple of times I reached my daughter, Jennifer, and terrified her also.  Thanks be to God, she is a sound sleeper and missed most of my night time rescue missions.

Most people can recollect at least one moment in life when fear accelerated your heart, panicked your mind and ordered your movements.  With this theme rolling in my spirit and Easter recently past, I noticed something, while reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days on earth.  There’s a lot of fear and terror in the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Look at this list from Matthew’s account alone starting in Chapter 26 to the end of the book.

  • The chief priests and elders feared backlash from Jesus’ followers.
  • Judas, fearful of discovery, tried to deny his role as traitor.
  • The arresting soldiers feared confrontation with Jesus and his followers and so came dressed for battle.
  • Panicked disciples deserted Jesus.
  • Jewish religious leaders feared loss of power to such a degree, they couldn’t recognize The Truth standing before them.
  • Peter feared someone might discover his relationship to Christ.
  • Pilate ignored justice and instead cowered before the demands of a mob.
  • We can reasonably assume that when the world went dark from noon until three, during Jesus’ crucifixion, most people felt anxiety or terror.
  • Further, when the temple veil split in two, rocks split, tombs broke open and dead people started walking around, many folks probably felt sheer terror.
  • The centurions near the cross felt terror at these events as they recognized too late that they murdered the Son of God.
  • The Pharisees feared Jesus’ disciples would try to make it appear that Jesus had risen by stealing his body.
  • People most likely panicked at the second earthquake which occurred when an angel moved the stone in front of the tomb.
  • Matthew states that the tomb guards “became like dead men,” when they saw the angel of the Lord.
  • Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” also felt fear from the events at the tomb.
  • Shortly after, the same women were frightened by the appearance of the Lord himself.

As believers, we rightly tend to focus on the best news in the Easter story, “He is not here, He is risen!” To minimize all the distress and turmoil that leads to that moment, however, is to do a great disservice to the story.  Before any resurrection, there must be death.  Both Jesus’ followers and his haters experienced tremendous upheaval and drama during his last earthly days.  For his disciples and friends, hopes, dreams and faith died, albeit temporarily. Jesus’ true state remained buried under their fears and sorrows for several days. His detractors lost their reason, integrity and most likely, in the end many relinquished their souls to permanent death in the kingdom of darkness.  These tragic individuals probably never comprehended that until the moment of their deaths.

Jesus’ resurrection made new life available to all mankind, but many missed it then and continue to ignore it now.  What saddens God is when I, as his child, behave as if I don’t believe he is still a resurrecting, new-life-giving Creator.

Where do you need a resurrection today?  In your body?  In a relationship?  In your finances or job?  In what areas of your world right now does there seem to be more death than life?   What dreams of yours are lying DOA in some tomb?  How does fear keep you ensnared, afraid to hope or believe that those places of death in your life could be miraculously resurrected?

I don’t know what wakes you up in the night or haunts you during the day. The roots of fear are universal and common to all.  I believe therefore that’s why the phrase “Fear not,” appears so many times in the Bible.  God understands our anxieties, but He doesn’t want us to be controlled by them.  That’s why Paul reminds us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.   (2 Tim. 1:7)

As we look at fear and its damage this next month, I urge you, if you struggle with this negative emotion, to memorize and meditate on the following Scriptures.  When fear is a controlling problem, even in just one area, it becomes difficult for us to hear God and believe Him.  The disciples couldn’t believe the good news about Jesus resurrection because of their terror at being discovered and killed also.  Let the word of God begin to stand up in your heart and mind to resist this common attack of Satan.

Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:5-7, John 14:27, John 4:18, Isaiah 43:1, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 27:1, Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 118:6-7, Psalm 34:7, Psalm 34:4