Be Not Afraid…

I have a confession to make: five nights ago (April 3) will mark the first time I cracked open my Scriptures since MARCH 7.  My resolution to read through the entire Old and New Testaments has been seriously challenged as of late.  Oh, I could cite so many valid (to me) reasons for this: grad school end-of-term chaos, getting my grades caught up and posted for mid-term progress reports in my day job, utter exhaustion from just having way too much on my plate…but really?  Here’s the actual reason:

2 KINGS.

Yes, I made it through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, surprisingly.  I made it through the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan and all the judges, the exciting history of Israel’s first monarchy, the ups and downs of David’s reign, and the aftermath of his egregious sin with Bathsheba.  But by 2 Kings?  My brain just couldn’t take anymore long names!  And one night of being “too tired” to crack open those five chapters was enough to arrest it indefinitely.

 

I don’t know what it was that inspired me to pick up my Bible before bed and pick up reading, but I did.  (Well, yeah, there’s the Holy Spirit.  Touche.) Right where I left off in the middle of horrible Israelite rulers, people who couldn’t remain faithful to their covenant with God, and invading armies that never gave them any peace.  The same stuff that rather made me zone out and abandon my plan before…but I kept reading, all the way to the story of King Hezekiah.  One of the few decent rulers who at least attempted to follow the Lord, he himself struggled with similar issues as I.  Specifically, when he was facing the armies of the Assyrian king, Shalmeneser, he was dumbstruck as one of the enemy’s spokesmen came with this message (roughly translated for you, the modern reader):

“Yo, Hezekiah! Just who do you think you believe in? I’ve conquered the WHOLE WORLD – where is this god you put your trust in?”

And Hezekiah wilted.

I often wilt. I wilt when people – especially people I love – attack and ridicule my belief in and love for God, when they attribute all of what I consider absolute proof of His existence and love for me (and everyone else, for that matter) coincidence, fantasy, brainwashing, mental instability, yada yada yada… it just makes me quake in my shoes and ties my tongue.  Eyes get pretty damp, too.  I’ll bet Hezekiah was feeling pretty damp…

After he wilted, though, he consulted the prophet.  Not just any prophet, the prophet of prophets.  The overly-eloquent, poetry-addicted, succintness-is-not-my-style prophet, the prophet who’s words continue to shake hearers to their souls (although we don’t always understand why…):

ISAIAH.

Actually, you should say his name like this: “I-SAI-ah!”  Use your best James Earl Jones voice for it.  There, you got it.

And here’s what I-SAI-ah! said:

Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.

Don’t be afraid.

What?  This loudmouthed, arrogant, know-it-all Assyrian king is mouthing off all over the place, roaring like a rabid hyena and causing all sorts of bedlam and distress, and all God has to say is “Don’t be afraid?”

It kind of reminds me of that Disney cartoon, The Three Little Pigs, with the wolf hollering: “I’m gonna huff and puff and blow your house in!”

wolf1

And all Hezekiah got was a “Do not be afraid.”

Then I guess that’s the answer: do not be afraid.  So there are those who don’t believe and holler and bluster and call you addled? Do not be afraid.  So you don’t always have a witty answer that will shut their mouths and give you the last word of victory? Do not be afraid.  And if you keep reading, you’ll see that God assures Hezekiah that Shalmeneser will get his.  And history tells us that, although he was successful in sacking Samaria and exiling those in the Northern Kingdom, he did not succeed in taking down Jerusalem. In fact, the prophecy that “I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” was fulfilled in 722 AD when his brother killed him and seized the crown.

So, be not afraid. Haters are gonna hate.  Be not afraid. God has my back, as He has the backs of all who put their trust in Him.

Here’s one of my favorite songs I listen to when that fear and anxiety threatens to overwhelm me; thank you, David Haas:

 

Be not afraid. He will bring you Home. He loves you and you are His. Be not afraid.

Oh, and get back to the Scriptures…who knows what the next chapter has?

 

 

New Every Morning

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, right about the time that hippie-style “Jesus Folk” music was becoming a staple in *gulp* dare I say it? – stodgy – mainline, evangelical churches.  Hymnals were being replaced by songsheets and the occasional overhead projection; organs, pianos, and, in our case, brass bands were being supplemented (not replaced) by guitars; and defined song selections gave way to pick-your-favorite sing-a-longs (this was, you realize, years before “seeker-sensitive” and super-tech-savvy productions happened; we still hadn’t become production-oriented).

At the time, it was all very hip and wonderful.  Now, though, as a solidly middle-aged person who has run the church gamut multiple times, I tend to gravitate toward the grander hymns of the faith and have to admit, nothing stirs my soul like a well-played organ (especially if that organ is playing Kingsfold or something else by Ralph Vaughn Williams).  Nonetheless, there are some of those “pick-your-favorite” sing-a-long songs that, on occasion, really stir my soul.  Here’s one of them:

Today was just such a day.  Started yesterday, actually.  Maybe it’s the “late-winter-bucket-of-suck” time of year, maybe it’s the grad school schedule I’m pulling on top of full-time-plus work, maybe it’s the 20 pounds I’ve packed on since September, maybe it’s all of those things.  Whatever it is, I’m tired.  So, so very tired. Waiting for this particular season (meteorological, professional, spiritual, personal…again, whatever…) to pass and for spring to bloom in my heart and mind and soul and, for Pete’s sake, in my yard!  Right before I went to sleep, as I was getting in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year chapters (5 on a good day, 15 on a catch-up day; that was last night), this is what popped up on my phone:

is40

Timely, right?  Nonetheless, I cried myself to sleep, praying, “Hasten the day, Father…please, hasten the day.”

Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll remember that, on occasion, I’ve been known to treat Facebook posts like fortune cookies.  Sometimes, it’s amusing; other times, it’s absolutely uncanny.  This morning has been uncanny.  First, while I was slapping on my pretty-for-the-public face:

16830911_10154638142868423_4555542226661836359_n

Just like a 19th-century preacher to slap me in the face.  They were good at that, you know. (Smith Wigglesworth smacked a corpse – well, kind of threw it against a wall – it got up and went home.  True story.)  But let’s not leave it to revivalists; here’s what came from, for cryin’ out loud, Toby Mac:

16819433_10154280330666179_7337061386591992672_o

My season of waiting.  Waiting for spring – new life, new purpose, new vision, new hope – to burst through the cold, unyielding, frozen ground of winter.  But winter is when all that life gathers energy to explode at just the right time.  And while I wait, I must remember that the Lord Himself is renewing my strength…not to run forward, but to wait.  The mounting up, and the running, and the walking all come after the waiting.

When I was in the 4th and 5th grades, I attended a little Christian school where we had chapel every morning.  One of the “pick-your-favorite sing-a-long” songs we sang frequently was a musical setting of Isaiah 40:31.  The emphasis wasn’t on mounting up, or running, or walking.  Look at the lyric structure and notice how it begins and ends:

They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength:

They shall mount up with wings as eagles,

They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.

The emphasis is on not the forward or upward or explosive motion, it’s on the waiting.  In waiting on God is our strength renewed.  And in remembering this, I feel my strength and resolve and joy being renewed.  It’s like Proverbs 15:23 says so beautifully: “A man hath joy by the answers of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”

God’s word to me today  – word spoken in due season – is truly good, and His mercies, so tender and compassionate and tailor-made for me, are new every morning!  Great is His faithfulness!