Monday, July 30, 2012

Are Your Fears Holding You Back?

Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Candace. I have known Candace since she was in middle school. She and my son are the same age and came up through the middle and high school ministries at our church together. She is sharing her journey of facing her biggest fear. Her fear? Public speaking. Personally, I find that a little ironic, because Candace has been getting up and singing in front of people as long as I’ve known her. She’s no stranger to being in front of a crowd, that’s for sure!

As my daughter enters middle school, I felt led to essentially move up with her and serve in the middle school/youth ministry. Along with that came my first trip to camp with the youth. At camp during one of our morning sessions, Candace was our speaker. Her presentation on facing fears truly spoke to my heart, as I, personally, was dealing with the fear of leaving my full-time job and going part time to be at home more with my family.  God put her in front of me at just the right time.

Candace is a young woman who is a tremendous example to our youth, and our church is so blessed to have her serving as an intern. Is she perfect?  No. She’s just like you and me – fallible, imperfect, a sinner. But every day she is seeking God and growing in Him and turning to Him with her triumps, failures, and fears.

Hello! My name is Candace, and I am just another girl trying to follow the Lord. Many times, I fail miserably, but Mrs. Mary caught me at one of my moments where I blindly stumbled into what the Lord told me to do; and somehow, because of His amazing grace and love compensating for my weakness, everything turns out better than I could have ever imagined.

Before I share, here’s a little background.  I am 20 years old, and ever since I was old enough to stand, I was afraid to speak in front of large groups. There were few things that created more panic and fear in me than the two words, “public speaking.” High school was when the fear really took hold of my life. A specific example was in my sophomore English class. After butchering a three-minute speech, a girl beside me leaned over and asked, “Are you OK?” Confused, I answered, “uh….yeah?” She then responded, “Oh, ok, ‘cause you sounded like you were crying the whole time!” Thanks for the encouragement, right?? So you get the point. I was TERRIFIED. This fear literally took over my life. I was so bound by the fear of speaking in front of people that even if the Lord had told me to my face to speak for some event, I probably would have pulled a stunt like Jonah and ran as far away as I could get.

So after I graduated from high school, I was home free and never had to speak in front of people again, right?! NOT. The utter horror I felt when I read I had to take Coms 101 (public speaking) in order to graduate from Liberty University was unimaginable. If you are or were afraid of public speaking like me, you’ll understand how terrifying it is to think of taking a semester-long class dedicated to the one thing that you fear more than anything else. So naturally, I frantically looked for ways to escape that dreaded class, and I soon found that I could take it online! This however, was not God’s plan for me.

During my freshman year of college, one of my closest friends was taking Coms 101 and told me how happy she was to be overcoming her fear. She was so happy, and I was so jealous. After much praying, I decided to take the class my sophomore year. From day one, the Lord was working on my faith. I had to give devotions in front of the class, give four speeches, and go up in front of the class to speak almost every day. I ended up with an A in the class and the Lord completely changed my perception of public speaking.

Fast forward to this summer.

I am currently an intern at Atlantic Shores Baptist Church working with the middle school youth group. Each year, we have a week-long summer camp with the high school and middle school groups together. So, as an intern, I was asked to speak in front of not just the middle school students, but the ENTIRE group including the camp staff, our church’s leaders, and the combined high school and middle school groups. Talk about facing fears! So, what does God give me to speak about? Overcoming fear. Of course. That’s just how God is. He loves to be ironic. So here I am, barely able to celebrate my victory with the Coms class, and God dumps another hurdle that requires SERIOUS faith. But this time, I was ready. I knew God would come through for me.

NOTE FROM MARY: I know gang – it’s a somewhat long post. But stay with us!  It is definitely worth the read.

Here we go! I spoke from Jeremiah 1:4-19 where the Lord called Jeremiah to be a prophet to Israel. Verses 4-5 are God’s call to Jeremiah. Like many Bible characters we read about, Jeremiah throws around a bunch of excuses as to why he can’t do what God just told him to. God tells Jeremiah that he was chosen for this job before he was even born! How cool is that? And what does Jeremiah say? He basically tells God He’s wrong!  When Jer, (let’s refer to Jeremiah as “Jer,” shall we?) says, “Ah Sovereign Lord,” he’s sighting God’s sovereignty, which is God’s ability to be in control of everything. So why would he say that God is wrong? If God is sovereign, shouldn’t He know if He got the right guy for the job? The answer is “yes.”

In the next few verses, Jeremiah makes two excuses, which I believe are the two excuses that many of us use when we argue with God.

1. I am not qualified.
2. I am too young.

Both of these are excuses that Jer uses to cover up the real reason why he is saying no to God. He is afraid. The root issue of almost every one of our excuses is fear.

I once heard Priscilla Shirer speak at Liberty University’s convocation, and she said something that I will never forget. She said something along these lines: The best way that Satan can keep you from doing God’s will is to make you afraid of it.  If you have a serious fear of something, it will most likely be something that the Lord is calling you to do.

That is so true if you think about it, because we, as humans, are wired to protect ourselves.  Why would we willingly submit ourselves to humiliation and failure? Truth is, we wouldn’t. But we don’t take into account God’s love for us and His ability to work all things for our ultimate good. Now back to the Bible.
In verse 8 God tells Jer not to be afraid. After that we don’t see any more excuses. Why? Because God hit the nail on the head. He always knows the root of our excuses. We can never fool Him.

After Jer accepts the Lord’s call on his life, we see that God equips him, He gives him power, and finally, He tests Jer to see how committed he is to his calling (verses 9-13).  In verses 12-13, God asks Jer to tell Him what he saw in the vision the Lord gave him. After Jer answers correctly, God tells Jer He is watching to see that His word is fulfilled.  So when we say yes to the call God has on our lives, even if we’re scared, God watches to see that we are faithful. We can’t half-heartedly follow the Lord, we have to go all out.

Jumping forward to verse 17, the Lord tells Jer not to be afraid of the people he must speak to, or He will terrify Jer before them. I asked my mom what this meant, because she, like most moms, knows everything! She said that if we allow ourselves to be even a little afraid of people and their opinions, then that fear will take us over, and we will be terrified before them. At that point, the Lord can’t help us, because we have chosen to place more focus on our fear of potential failure than we put on God’s ability to bring us through.

Verse 19 ends with a promise from the Lord that people may come against us, but through God’s power, we can overcome fear and trust in the Lord for our strength.

In the end, the Lord brought me through my talk and COMPLETELY took away my fear and any nerves that I had before going up in front of everyone at camp. I am here to testify that God is ALWAYS faithful.

I know how it feels to be paralyzed by fear, and it’s awful. But I also know how it feels to be living in faith day by day and saying yes to the things God gives me to do even though I may be afraid.  And it’s amazing. The whole point of this post, if you missed it, is that the Lord loves to be made strong in our weakness, and He loves to use underdogs. So let Him use you! Don’t let Satan hold you back because of fear! He has no power over you if you are a born-again believer in Christ. Claim your status as a son (or daughter) of the living God, and step out in faith even if your fear tells you not to. The Lord will be so pleased, and you will be on your way to overcoming the fear that has tied you down and held you back from your full potential in Christ!

Just to top things off, I'm going to share this video of Candace that I saw on her mom's Facebook page.  It's Candace and a crew of Liberty University worship leaders singing at Thomas Road Baptist Church. You'll see Candace enter from the left.  This will give you "chicken skin."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Life Lessons with Toddlers and Tiaras

"...The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

Yesterday, my 11-year-old daughter was watching Toddlers & Tiaras out of sheer boredom.  I was so disturbed by what I saw, I have since banned the program from our house.

I came in as one mom was gushing over how proud she was of her two daughters who appeared to have won their divisions.  In the same breath, she was thanking God for her girls being so blessed.  Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that she recognized that God had something to do with it. I'd really like to know, however, how she feels He has blessed them. Is it because they're beautiful by the world's standards? From what I've seen, these competitions are merely a way for the world to "judge a book by its cover."  There's a brief talent division, but the talent often includes a three-year-old toddler thrusting her hips to an Elvis song or walking across the stage and waving while wearing a themed costume. I'm sure there are skills involved in being able to maintain a perfectly coiffed hairstyle and not allowing mascara to run, but I digress...

After turning off the show, my sweet girl and I talked about how we have been so programmed with the world's view of beauty that we often forget about what God thinks. While God wants us to take care of our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), he wants us to spend more time caring for what's inside. Our character, how we treat others, and our relationship with Him are what matter most (just to name a few).

We also talked about her cousin - a sweet, red-headed young lady who is mildly autistic. I asked her how she felt the judges would rate her on their beauty scale. She couldn't really give me an answer. This is the problem with the world's beauty expectations. This cousin is one of the most amazing, loving, smart and naturally beautiful girls I've ever met. Yet in a competition based on worldly beauty standards, I'm afraid she wouldn't fair so well. I can't see her being interested in piling on loads of makeup and spending hours curling her fiery locks or trapsing around in a skin-tight, sparkly ensemble. She would, however, love to talk to you and tell you about the stars and constellations or what belt she has achieved in karate...Those judges seriously have no idea what they're missing!

OK, so, here's the thing...

My heart hurts.  It truly breaks for the girls who are growing up trying to keep up with the world's beauty standards. It breaks even more for the girls whose parents encourage these worldly standards. So many have turned a blind eye to the characteristics that are most valued by God. It's no wonder so many of our girls are suffering from depression and eating disorders and are the victims of bullying (or the instigators).

This is one of my very favorite Bible verses, and I have this verse taped to every mirror in my house:  "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful. I know that full well." (Psalm 139:14)  I put it up at least five years ago to not only remind my daughter that God created us and loves us as His wonderful creation, but to remind ME, too. I'm going to be one of the greatest influences in my daughter's life. Does that mean I'll always be a good influence?  Oh, heck no! But I'm really, really trying. My own body image is a work in progress and has been as long as I remember. Thankfully, God has been at work with me and my daughter, because she is an amazingly confident young lady. This is truly a God thing.

Chances are if you're reading this, you care about this subject, and you care about the girls and young women in your life. Take some time today to compliment one of these lovely ladies on one of their beautiful inner characteristics. And pray. Pray that she will see her worth as glorious creation of our precious Father - regardless of her weight, her height, her body shape, her hair color or the color of her skin.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

Katy Perry - Too Much of Her

I haven't seen Katy Perry's new movie. I don't intend to. I don't intend to let my daughter see it. I won't even let my daughter listen to her music. While I agree she is very talented and beautiful, she's using her gifts to glorify promiscuity, alcohol use, and who knows what else (I really, really, really don't want to know what else). As is typical with many who are popular in today's culture, she is targeting our young girls (and boys) with highly sexualized messages that they need not be exposed to.

I've read several reviews, mostly by the liberal media, who either praise her for her honesty or criticize her for her blatant self promotion. None of the usual media outlets say anything about how her candy-coated facade with messages about sex will affect our youth. (BTW, here is my recommended review: Katy Perry: Part of Me) Then again, the minute a conservative Christian steps forward with an opposing view about today's culture we're greeted with accusations of being too over protective, "out of touch," or that we're sheltering our children from the inevitable.  (As I've mentioned before, I'm totally OK with being over protective, out of touch and an avid shelterer.)

By worldy standards, I'm seen as a prude. I would bet that God sees it differently. I still watch television shows and movies that I don't think God would watch with me. In fact, He might just smack me upside the head and say, "What the heck are you thinking??" These are shows, of course, that I watch in my mommy bubble when my sweet daughter is either asleep or out of the room. I am VERY protective of my daughter's heart and mind... I probably should be a little more protective of my own, too. (OK, I'm feeling a little convicted now... darn it!)

The Bible says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:1-2)

OK, so here's the thing...

I, personally, think there is a little too much comforming going on in the world... and in our churches (that's a totally separate blog conversation... note to self). Instead of standing on the Bible, we're standing on what's acceptable to the world so as not to offend anyone. We allow our precious little children to emulate popular culture so they can fit in with the world and not be persecuted. GUESS WHAT?? The Bible says that as Christians we WILL be persecuted (Matthew 24:9)... it also says that while we're in the world, God doesn't want us to be OF the world (1 John 2:15-17!).

Have you given in to the pressures of the world in the name of fitting in? What tough choices have you made that may have caused you to be persecuted? 

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I say.  It only matters what God says.  Of course, I'm always more than happy to share my opinion. :)

By the way, I thought you all might be super excited to hear that I'll be writing more than ever very soon! I'll only be working part time, so that will give me even more time to dedicate to sharing my opinion. Isn't that great??! Thanks for reading!