The Cows in Front of Me

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We were driving home late last night, and mom nearly plowed through a herd of cows that had escaped their fence and were holding a cattle convention in the middle of the highway.

It reminded me of a story I’d heard my dad tell about the time he killed 7 black cows on a country road in the wee hours of the morning. Apparently it was too dark to see them until one of the beasts came crashing through the windshield of his light blue Buick Regal. The following Christmas, my uncle took some black cattle from his sons’ toy farm set and glued them to a blue Hot Wheels car as a gag gift.

Thankfully, OUR loitering livestock were headed up by a heifer of the white variety–allowing mom to swerve just as her headlights illuminated the ghostly, four-legged figure. She then performed a few evasive driving techniques that I’d never have guessed were part of her repertoire and slammed on the brakes. We came to a stop just inches from the nose of another cow.

I called 911 in hopes of averting a bovine disaster, and we got home no worse for wear and with a story to tell. I was impressed with mom’s steering prowess (how’s that for a double entendre? ..), and I cannot emphasize how glad I am to have been sitting in the passenger’s seat. I’m sure the cows are grateful too. If I’d been behind the wheel, I would’ve barreled through those poor animals like a runaway train headed for the zoo. (See Jesus, take Every Wheel for more on my inadequacies as a driver.)

As relief over safe cows flooded my mind last night, a fresh awareness of the trust and security that I’ve found in Jesus filled my heart. I don’t mean salvation; I’ve long known what it is to be rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). But when God saves us, He doesn’t remove the steering wheel from our lives. We still have a will. We still get to choose. Daily, we decide to trust Him with all or only part of our lives.

Our family is in transition, and I don’t currently have a job. Or a house. What I do have is a house on the market that needs to sell, an adoption process that is halted until we find a home, and a husband who is entering the busiest season of a brand-new field of work.

I keep thinking that I need to do something about all of that, but God reminded me of the story of Moses from Exodus 2 and whispered, “Will you go in the basket?”

You know the story … Pharaoh sees the Hebrews growing in strength and number and orders every Hebrew boy to be thrown into the river and drowned. Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and floats him down the Nile–not knowing the outcome but hoping for a better future in the water than could be found on the shore. Baby Moses is found and raised
 by an Egyptian princess. He eventually helps to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery.

When I apply the story to my own life, my first thought is whether I–like Moses’ mother–trust God enough to put my child in a basket and let go. This question has been walked out over the last three years of my life, with every diagnosis, symptom, and decision that concerns my sweet little 4-year-old. It’s a question that gets asked again and again, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” I choose to put her in the basket, because that’s where the hope is. That’s where my God is.

But this time God didn’t ask about Olivia, He asked about me. My Father nudged my heart and asked if I trust Him enough to be placed in a basket and launched into the water.

Will I allow myself to be sent into the river with all of its currents and bends and uncertainty?

I think the answer is yes. It’s taken me way too long to arrive here, but I’ve finally come to the place where I’d rather have God steer for me–the car, the basket, and my life. Like a father arranging a marriage or making a place for his kids in the family business–I want God to choose, and I realize that He doesn’t need my help. He just needs my heart.

I think that as we follow Jesus, growing in maturity so often means learning to become like a child again.

As a little girl, I entrusted my whole future to God without a second thought, because I saw Him as full of wonder and adventure.

In my teens, I viewed present circumstances as something to move beyond and began to hold stock in my own ability–willing myself up ladders of my own choosing.

Throughout my twenties, I’ve encountered circumstances and questions that couldn’t be answered by any amount of talent, intellect, or willpower. I’ve been humbled. Oh, so very humbled.

As I approach 30 years old, I think I’d like to be a child again. Because a future full of wonder and undiscovered adventure sounds better than one I dream up and check off as I haul myself up each rung of a ladder. Because there is so much more hope in the river than on the shore. Because the cows in front of me are too big and too many, and I know down deep inside that I don’t have what it takes to make it to the other side unscathed.

Even saying that seems wrong–so contrary to the “believe you have what it takes” mantra that we’ve all become so accustomed to. Still, I’d rather believe that God in me has what it takes.

For every part of me that would kneel to admit that I’m actually not enough, the One who is and will always be enough rises to fill the void.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”–John 3:30

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”–I Corinthians 1:27

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”–II Corinthians 12:9

” I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”–Mark 10:15

Fearless Faith

Featured

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In our new-parent zeal for baby milestones, we spent hours staring at our newborn just to see what she might do next.

I used to lean over a sprawled out Olivia, cooing, “How much does mommy love her baby girl?” Then, I would answer the question myself as I picked up her tiny arms, flinging them outward:  “Mommy loves Olivia THIS big!”

It was a startle reflex, of course, that caused Olivia to spread her arms and legs wide at the exact moment that I squealed. I’m sure that some logical part of me knew that I was witnessing an ordinary phenomenon called the Moro reflex. (It’s when babies respond to sudden movement by throwing back their heads, extending arms and legs, crying out, then curling up again.) But when Olivia did it, I was sure it was a pent-up declaration of love for me.

The Moro reflex happens when an infant feels like she is falling–the fear of which most experts believe all humans are born with. We’re all born afraid to fall, yet a glance at the picture above will reveal a child in joyous rapture as she is being launched at the sky by her taller-than-average father.

So how does Olivia go from startling at sudden movements, even from the safety of the ground, to laughing gleefully as she is tossed into the trees?

How do you and I go from jolting at every bump in life’s road to resting easy, joyfully even, no matter how far down the ground seems to be?

Faith.

NOT mechanically shouting faith words through a hoarse voice–raspy from trying to prove belief and conceal doubt. What good is it to understand the power of words if you do not trust the heart of God?

Just faith.

NOT praying, “Lord, if it be thy will” with ankles shaking and hands clenched–too scared to ask for what has been freely offered. How sad to realize the peace that comes through submission only to miss out by selling the promises of God short!

Faith can’t be mustered up any more than fear can be wrestled into compliance.

What happens when I speak words of faith because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t? What if I stay silent out of fear that believing and speaking won’t make a difference?

Fear just finds a new mask.

Matthew 12:34 says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Can a heart full of fear speak faith? Not any more than a deceitful heart can tell the truth.

When we try to draw faith from a well of fear it’s like picking rotting fruit from a bad tree or writing a hot check on an account in default.

Only perfect love casts out fear. Faith comes, not just by hearing, but by receiving the Word of God (I John 4:18; Romans 10:16-21). We hear the good news about Jesus and accept the words as we embrace the One who speaks them.

How can Olivia, afraid of falling since birth, smile as she’s thrown into the air?

She learned firsthand that her father’s hands are the safest place to be.

How can I rest easy in the most fearful of situations?

Only by getting to know my Father so well that I can’t imagine Him ever dropping me.

Faith comes through relationship, and that only happens face to face. I find God’s ability and willingness to come through for me in His written Word, the self-told story of His constant love. In Jesus made flesh, I see perfect dependability and a spotless track record. In the presence of God’s Spirit–always with me and in me–I discover unfailing faithfulness.

Now I am a tree, rooted in Jesus and bearing good fruit.

I write checks on an account in solid standing:  backed by the One who built the bank and based on His enduring promises.

I speak faith-filled words, and they are drawn from a well of deep trust.

When I pray, “Your will be done,” I’m running toward God’s sovereignty, not away from His promises.

I come to Jesus as I did the very first time: like a child, with simple belief. I recognize that He is the basis for my faith and the only rightful source of its expression.

Jesus is both the Author and the object of faith. When I’ve experienced his faithfulness intimately, I can’t help but declare my trust in Him!

Face to face with Jesus, the living Word, I find real faith.

Startle-proof,
Gravity defying,
FEARLESS
Faith

Serendipity

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Serendipity. It’s a word that sounds mystical, and I think most people could more easily tell you how it “feels” than describe exactly what it means. It is the title of the 2001 movie where two people meet, fall in love, and then lose track of each other, only to be brought back together by a series of serendipitous events.  The movie defines serendipity as “a fortunate accident.” We think of the accidental discovery of penicillin or Christopher Columbus’ unexpected finding of the “New World” when he was trying to reach India. Webster calls it: 

“The phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for.”

I don’t believe in fate or luck, but Webster’s definition of serendipity reminds me of God’s amazing ability to give us something of great value when we’re not even looking for it.

Serendipity in History
While sitting in on a world history class today, I learned that Christopher Columbus gave the Holy Spirit credit for inspiring his voyage to the other side of the world. Divine intervention is in God’s wheelhouse, and when He supernaturally crosses paths and aligns moments, it’s never by mistake:

–An Egyptian princess opens a floating  basket made of reeds to reveal the face of a child who will one day lead his own people out of slavery.

–Another Hebrew boy is sold into slavery by cruel brothers and, through a series of anomalous events, is positioned to save these same brothers from starvation in a time of famine.

–A young orphan rises through the ranks of the most beautiful women in the land to become the Jewish queen of the Persian king–just in time to save her people from annihilation.

Moses. Joseph. Esther. Three times, God providentially orchestrates events to preserve a nation, and the stories go on.

Serendipity in Threes
It’s only Tuesday, but my week has already been caught up in a serendipitous storm.

1 …
On Sunday, I taught children’s church, which I have never done in the six months we’ve been here. I didn’t have much time to prepare, so I picked something I knew:  a lesson we’d used on a mission trip in Honduras this past summer.

I tailored the lesson for a smaller and younger group of kids, but basically, we ended up reading and acting out the story of Peter walking on water from Matthew 14. The lights were turned off to represent nighttime, and our elementary students were rowing along in an imaginary boat, when suddenly the boat was hit with great waves (a blue scarf waved up and down by preschoolers). “Peter” sees what the disciples first think is a ghost, then recognizes Jesus and asks to be called out onto the water. “Jesus” (played by an 8-year-old girl, since there were no boys) bids Peter to come.

We all know that the story ends with Peter sinking until Jesus saves him, wondering at how little faith has been shown. I had started the morning with a question and ended it with the same:

“Where is the best place to be if you are in the middle of a huge sea?”

Most people, child or adult, would give the expected answer:  “in a boat.” Out of the mouth of a third-grader, though, came the radical reply:  “with Jesus.”

2 …
The little girl in children’s church was right, and I thought of her wise words later the same day as I was reading Tedd Dekker’s fictional but biblically-based “A.D. 30”–a telling of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of a Bedouin “desert queen.” When Dekker’s book began to recount the water-walking episode, I found myself in the middle of the storm once again–this time seeing it through the eyes of someone who might’ve been there with Peter and Jesus.

3 …
A couple of days later, I opened Facebook to find a close friend’s post about being “storm proof,” despite the crushing waves that life can bring. She linked her to post to a recording of “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail),” by Hillsong United.

Three encounters with the same “storm,” told in three different ways within the span of three days. Serendipitous, don’t you think? I might’ve overlooked the significance of it all had the phone not rung a few short minutes later to present my life with its own mini-storm.

My Mini Storm
I call it a mini storm, because the Holy Spirit made the thunder and lightning smaller in my eyes, directing my focus elsewhere, so that I could experience “the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for”: 

–I was looking for an easy children’s church message, and I found some of the truest words that can be spoken, uttered out of the mouth of a child.

–I was reading fiction just for fun and found myself experiencing truth vicariously through the characters in a story.

–I was perusing Facebook to pass the time and found comfort in the words of a friend and a familiar song–just before my own storm arrived.

The nature of my storm doesn’t matter. The things I “accidently” found in it do matter:

1) The best place to be when you are in the middle of a great sea, in the midst of a storm, is not in a boat of safety, conformity, the status quo, or trust in men. The best place to be is with Jesus.

2) The litmus test of faith is not in knowing about Jesus or even in believing in Him. “Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror (James 2:19).” Jesus spoke of Peter’s doubt, even though Peter knew and followed Him, even though the disciple got out of the boat.

But Faith doesn’t falter when it trusts in Jesus to the degree that the storm poses no threat.

Of trusting in “the boat,” Dekker writes:

 “Perhaps it is better to understand faith by your fears … We put our trust in wood and pitch and flesh and blood and wind and water, and so the storm has dominion over us. Don’t you see? We must let this world go and see no threat. This is what it means to believe in Yeshua! … In the eyes of children who trust their Father, there is no threat. No grievance against the storm (Dekker, A.D. 30 ).”

The storm is real, but the threat is not, because Jesus can be trusted. In fixing our eyes on Him, we find grace to let go of our fear of the storm. We also find the grace to surrender our grievence against anyone or anything.

This is why scripture says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3)”

3) The only way to be “storm-proof” is to  turn our eyes to the Master of the wind and waves–listening as He cries out, “Peace! Be still!”

We must get to know Jesus’ sovereignty, becoming familiar with His faithfulness, until He holds His rightful place in our estimation.

Jesus is supreme over everything, the One in whose presence there can be no fear.

This is the God kind of serendipity. How much more of it would I “accidentally” find if Jesus were the focus of all of my searching? (Matthew 6:33)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

I will call upon Your name,
and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise,
My soul will rest in Your embrace,
for I am yours and You are mine.
–Oceans (Where Feet May Fail, Hillsong United)