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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

My friend lost her husband without warning. She kissed him goodnight, and in the morning, he was gone. Her single-parent (of 8) life quickly became an overwhelming nightmare, and anger became her solace.

brokenAnd so did alcohol.

Grief and anger sent her into a dark, vicious downward spiral of addiction. Though she loved Jesus and tried to put on a brave face and cope with every bit of strength she had, my friend was shattered beyond repair. She tried, but didn’t have the strength to give God all the pieces.

I think it was one of the hardest things she’s ever done, but my friend agreed to enter a Christ-focused residential rehab program. It took more than a year for her to crawl out of the bottle and into the light of day, the kind of day that dawns one at a time, wrapped in God’s fresh, new mercy. The kind of day that slowly, carefully, and sometimes painfully, restores the broken shards of hopes and dreams that at first seemed utterly impossible to put back together.

God has been restoring my friend’s heart and life one jagged piece at a time, and the new woman emerging radiates grace, humility, precious surrender, and most beautiful of all, hope. Some people might call her a recovering alcoholic.

I call her incredibly brave.

I have seen broken. I have been broken. And maybe you’ve been broken at some time or another. Maybe you’re broken now.

Maybe you’ve looked at a person failing to hold it together and wondered why they can’t just dust off, grow up, and fly straight. But my friend’s experience reminds me that everyone’s brokenness doesn’t look the same, and we should avoid passing judgment on what we think we see. We should remember there is much we can’t see, whether it’s well-hidden, or a matter of our own short-sightedness.

My friend’s experience also reminds me that I need to extend the same grace and understanding to someone else’s brokenness that I would want shown to me.

We have a tendency to see through the filter of our own experience, the grid of what’s familiar. But this limits our ability to understand when it comes to the struggles, challenges, and pain others face. What wouldn’t phase me might give you PTSD, and vice versa. We may judge someone whose brokenness drives them to drink. Or to walk away from their spouse. Or into deep despair. Or debt. Depression. Anxiety. Food. Rage.

We are all breakable. Fragile. To be handled with care.  And none of us can fix our own brokenness any more than a cracked pot can fix itself.

But there is Someone who can.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

shattered-cambion-artAuthor Roseanna White posted about Broken Vessels on her blog today, and I found myself nodding as I read it. She said, “…our Lord is described as a potter. He knows all about these fragile vessels He’s made. He knows how easily we break. Shatter. Fall to pieces. And He knows how to fix us. More, He knows how to take the pieces and make something new. Lord, use us in your mosaic. Fix us where you can, filling our cracks and holes and empty places with you.” [Read the rest of her post HERE.]

 

This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 

Isaiah 43:16-19

Maybe in your life, you’ve faced overwhelming struggles or unspeakable horrors. Or painfully unmet expectations. Whatever brokenness you’ve suffered—or are suffering, I hope you have someone caring and strong to turn to. If you haven’t yet, cry out to Jesus. He cares more than you know. And he can make you whole.

 

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p-rugrats-christine-cavanaugh-chuckie-finsterWhen my kids were little, they watched Rugrats on Nickelodeon. Not a fan? That’s ok. I didn’t care if they watched it, as long as they didn’t pick up Angelica’s bratty behavior and attitude. But while I folded laundry or cooked dinner and listened to the show, I found myself rooting for timid little Chuckie, the one who was always afraid. Because somehow, Chuckie often summoned the courage to be brave and face his fears. I think Chuckie was the character written with the five year old in mind, the one kids could identify with.

I marvel at those who seem fearless. Do you know anyone like that? Aren’t they amazing? But what amazes me even more are those who are terrified and somehow summon courage even when they’re scared spitless.

I don’t know what Chuckie based his courage on. But as I thought about this character (yes, I like to analyze characters and I love to learn from them), what really struck me was the fact that Chuckie’s courage wasn’t based on an absence of fear. The poor kid was always afraid. There are those who just don’t get scared—like Navy Seals, maybe, and they’re awesome, of course, but they’re not much help to me, you know? So maybe you’re a Navy Seal who is totally in your Zen zone hanging out underwater in a 300lb diving suit with oxygen being pumped down to you by some guy topside who might sneeze and trip over your air hose and accidentally rip it loose, or fall asleep or get distracted by puppies on facebook. And I’m glad you’re at peace with that guy in charge of your oxygen. But for the rest of us who are petrified of drowning or suffocating, the idea of mustering the courage to do something like that, for me, is huge.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faced a frightening situation when he and his people were surrounded by an enemy too numerous and powerful to withstand. I love that he didn’t posture bravado. He was Freaked. Out. And was not afraid to admit it. In unabashed humility, he uttered this prayer to the Lord:

“For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Which was great, but even better, the Lord answered and said,

“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”

The battle belongs to God! That’s so cool! And, somehow, so easy to forget.

One of my earlier novels gives a nod to the Old Testament story of Daniel’s young friends as they face the fiery furnace, and the main character (Emily) is reminded that if she has to face a fiery trial, the Lord will be right there with her, standing with her through it all. A wise book reviewer (Carrie of Reading Is My Superpower) made this lovely meme quoting a line (inscribed in a fictional children’s book) from the story.

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Courage is not an absence of fear, or enemies surrounding our camp, or trials, or taxes, or fiery furnaces. Courage is stepping out in faith in spite of fear. It may help to remember that the battle is not ours, and is already won (YES!!) and that the Lord stands with us, right beside us, and will never leave us. Or accidentally trip over our air hose.

Personally, I admire the timid soul who summons the courage to trust God when afraid. I think taking a step of faith and trusting God in spite of fear is incredibly brave—maybe even more brave than a Navy Seal in the 300lb diving suit.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. -Psalm 27:14

Question: Care to share a moment when you were afraid and had to summon the courage to jump or step out in faith?

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At Easter this year, I heard several sermons on the Resurrection that reminded me that those who had spent significant time with Jesus were heartbroken and scared by his death, and were later confused by the disappearance of his body from the tomb. The people he had forewarned about his death and resurrection were shattered by his death, and when his body disappeared, they didn’t even consider the possibility that he had risen from the dead as he had promised.

In the last few years, I’ve made more of an effort to be in the word and in biblical teaching daily, starting each day in an atmosphere of worship and the word that helps me focus on the Lord. But though I’m more focused on God and on seeking his presence, I still have moments of doubt. Will he ever answer my prayer? Does he even care? Is he even there? Is this all a joke? What if I die and there’s nothing?

We don’t like to admit it, we believers. After all, we’re distinguished by the fact that we, unlike others, believe. Do other believers ever doubt? I mean real serving, committed, bible-quoting believers? And if they do, do they ever admit it? I rarely ever hear anyone speak of doubt. It’s like a four-letter word to Christians. I think we’re too ashamed to admit it. Some might look down on our faltering faith that we’ve professed it to the world, after all. If we admit we have doubts, people will think we’re hypocrites, frauds, or worse, suckers.

Do you ever experience doubt? If so, what do you do with it? Are you disturbed, unsettled by it? Wonder if there’s something wrong with you, or with your faith?

Doubt Is Understandable

The Bible is FULL of people who doubted. People who should have known better. People who made choices we would never make… hello, Golden Calf? Moses hasn’t been gone five minutes on the mountain of God and they’re already melting earrings and making a new god to worship. A cow, of all things. Were they abysmally stupid? Or were they humans who by nature have a hard time really listening to God?

Those closest to Christ suffered some seriously egregious doubt. These are men who walked with Jesus, ate with him, listened to him teach and watched him heal and forgive and deal with people. Saw the miracles, the power firsthand. Saw the one person on the planet who never slipped, never sinned, never missed a chance to obey his Father in heaven.  We know they followed him constantly, heard him teach, believed him and believed in him. And yet, there are so many instances of them quickly forgetting what he had just done for them and responding to unpleasant or difficult situations with worry and fear, hiding, even lying.

Don’t we all suffer from short-term memory loss when it comes to God? Although I have seen God answer more prayers than I can ever count, I still forget his faithfulness, his attentiveness, his provision. He has proven himself faithful time after time after time, and yet I struggle to hope and trust he will provide or take care of or resolve something. Why?

I think doubting God is not as strange as we may think. It’s not strange that we read the Bible and pray and share our faith and still forget about his goodness, still wonder about his eternal kingdom and plan and preparations for us, still wonder and worry that he won’t answer and do what we believe and say he will.

The Israelites quickly forgot all the miracles, provisions, promises, lessons, kingdom declarations, and presence of God.

The disciples quickly forgot all the miracles, provisions, promises, lessons, kingdom declarations, and presence of Jesus.

The women at the empty tomb and the eleven disciples quickly forgot what Jesus had told them about his death and resurrection repeatedly, and recently. And audibly. And in the flesh.

What I’m wondering is this: If the people closest to Jesus had such a hard time believing him, how can we expect to never entertain some doubt?

…And have mercy on those who doubt. Jude 1:22

Doubt is Forgivable

The Israelites in the days of the Kings had lost sight of God and turned to idol worship, and this had gone on for so long that the people eventually forgot the Lord and his decrees. When young king Josiah ruled, a copy of the Law was found during the repair of the temple. When it was read aloud, Josiah was grieved and moved to make changes.

The pair on the road to Emmaus had quickly forgotten what Jesus had said. We notice that Jesus didn’t show them who he was. He had done plenty of miracles; clearly those weren’t enough, and actually, miracles weren’t the point. Instead of proving them wrong, he took those sorrowful, distraught men to the word of God, to the scriptures. And he didn’t just quote a couple of key verses, he took them back through all the scriptures that told the story, from the beginning and up to this point in history, about the Messiah’s coming, about what the prophets had said, up to the necessary fulfillment of all these things. He patiently addressed their doubt by taking them back to the perfect plan of God, from the Word of God.

So why hadn’t these men seen it? Perhaps they had heard Jesus speak of God’s coming kingdom and latched onto the parts they wanted to hear or their interpretation of what they wanted it to mean and tuned out what he was really telling them. They had been looking for a political hero, an immediate fix to their unpleasant situation, their discomfort, their discontent. They had allowed their daily, earthly difficulties and challenges to cloud their understanding of God and his bigger, eternal picture.

RMlogoEp.43HowtoListentoOthersWithoutBeingSwayedbyThem

Either we are just short-sighted in our desires, or our heart wants to hear only what we want to hear. We can’t imagine what he’s telling us, so we focus on what’s in front of us. We seek him for help, and he answers, but we aren’t really listening to what he’s saying. Thomas had heard, as had the others, that he would rise from the dead, and even with a resurrected Christ standing before him, his doubt was so huge that he insisted on touching Christ’s wounds.

Jesus said, “You believe because you see, that’s good. But blessed are those who believe without seeing.”

Doubt is Treatable

The people in Josiah’s day had been without the Book of the Law for 57 years. Josiah was only 26, and had likely never even heard of it.

2  Kings 22:11-13  When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

They fell into idol worship and disobedience from a lack of God’s law, his word. I think some disobedience is marked by defiance, but sometimes marked by disbelief.

So, what do we do? How do we combat doubt?

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Romans 10:17

We can combat doubt with faith, which comes from hearing. Reading the Bible, listening to truth. And with prayer. Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is doubt’s destroyer, ruin’s remedy, the antidote to all anxieties.”

In addition to attending church and hearing excellent biblical teaching, I hear (read, hear on audio) the Bible daily. But perhaps I need to be a better hearer. Perhaps I need to dig more deeply into God’s word, and learn to really listen.  Be willing and open to hearing his voice, his truth, his love, his nature, his plan, his word. Be more willing to allow it to speak to me, to be more open to understanding what it means. And maybe to take it a step further and put myself in a position to apply all that it says, not just the parts I like, and to see his truth, power, and love in action.

Come boldly, O believer, for despite the whisperings of Satan and the doubtings of thine own heart, thou art greatly beloved.  -Charles Spurgeon

Do you struggle with doubt at times on your faith journey? Don’t despair. While I too struggle at times, I also believe that God can handle our doubts, strengthen our faith, and remind us of the truth and relevance of all that we have come to believe and understand. Let’s come boldly ask and allow our loving God to do just that.

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In Wings Like a Dove, Thomas speaks of the kind, old man who took him under his wing as an orphan, a Norwegian man of faith whose quiet humility inspired Thomas to seek his own relationship with God. Thomas credits his own faith to Gabriel’s simple, lifelong devotion to God, even as his life was slipping away.

Have you ever known someone whose simple, steadfast faith inspired you in some way? Someone whose unwavering relationship with God bolsters your faith, increases your hope? I have.

The fictional Gabriel was inspired by our own real-life Gabriel—my father in law, Osborn Gabriel (“Al”) Eide, also a Norwegian.AL (34.0)

He was a man of simple, unwavering faith, a simple, hardworking son, husband, friend, father, and grandfather, whose love for Jesus was always evident all throughout his adult life and right into his nineties, even long after his mind was muddled by dementia. At that point, he couldn’t fake his faith, couldn’t put on a “religious” act. He had zero filters and zero “self-awareness”.

AL (34.8)

AL (56)

His love for God and the spirit of God so visible in him even during those final years bolstered my faith. Even when he was confused and his conversation made little sense, he still exuded humility, kindness, and solid faith in Jesus, right up to the very end.

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He was a special favorite of his caregivers at the home where he last lived, people who never knew him in his strong, sound-minded prime, and yet still loved his grateful, kind demeanor and appreciated his gentle encouragement to “find yourself a good church.”

 

Have you ever known anyone with a faith that long and unshakable? To what do you attribute this?

 

Here’s the video tribute we made for Al Eide, for those who knew and loved him.

 

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The grace of God is difficult to understand. The idea of granting favor to people who don’t deserve it is so foreign to our small, justice-wired minds. His mercy is equally confusing: to be pardoned from the consequences our blockheaded behavior deserves.

I understand that I am to be a conduit of God’s grace, I really do. But even when I am willing to show grace or mercy, my sense of justice keeps rearing its score-keeping little head.

I don’t fully understand how God’s grace operates. Grace, like lasting love (because let’s face it—if it isn’t lasting, it isn’t love), isn’t an emotion, but a choice. Grace sometimes means thinking outside the box.

In fact, true grace often means throwing out the box altogether.

The Lord has been showing me that I need to stop wishing people would change when they don’t line up with my list of Things I Like in a Human. I not only need to stop wishing they would change, but I need to change the way I see others and be more accepting of our differences. I’m trying, truly. And yet, no matter how hard I try to change my attitude toward those who see and think differently, it occurs to me that I can never change enough. There are always going to be things about people that I just can’t reconcile. I need to be more open minded, and yet I can only open my little brain so much.

Ah, the limitations of being human.

That’s where grace comes in.

I don’t understand people. Shocking, I know. Christ says I’m to love people as he does, without condition (conditions include wishing they would stop being so anal/boasting/dramatic/verbose/needy/etc). So, in order to love as He loves (and commands), I must rely on grace—that mysterious spiritual blanket that falls on me and everyone around me like snow, coating us all until we are a bizarre collection of snowmen, mismatched in size and shape and yet oddly uniform, suddenly similar. His grace, like snow, puts a hush in the air, quiets the clamor in our judgmental minds, and blinds us to one another’s annoying quirks and all those other things we just don’t understand or—let’s be honest—like about each other.

They say love is blind. This doesn’t mean love turns a blind eye to destructive behavior. But I do think blind love means that with the help of the Spirit and grace of God, I could be far, far, far easier on others in the privacy of my heart.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Don’t secretly demand that people measure up to some standard that you and I, if we were to be honest, don’t always meet ourselves. Do you want a friend? Show yourself friendly. Do you want more attention? Be more attentive. You want more respect, show more respect. Not because giving is a magical formula for getting, but rather because wanting to receive what we’re not willing to give is selfish and hypocritical.

Wait, was that a snowflake…?

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My 92-year old father-in-law is an amazing person. And he has dementia.

He lives in a wonderful care facility but is often mixed up about where he is, how things work, where he believes he’s been. When left to his disordered thoughts, he gets fixated and rambles at length about things that make no sense. We sometimes find him alone on a bench in a hallway because his deep baritone voice carries and his loud nonsense speak disturbs the residents in the main room.

My husband and I find that if we ask him about history—of which he is highly knowledgeable—his thoughts become more ordered and he can carry on a relatively normal conversation, recalling people and events with astonishing accuracy. He will sometimes tell us about a world leader or an event unfamiliar to us, so we Google it while he’s talking and he’s always spot on. But he also thinks he’s on a ship or in a train station, and he often sees things that aren’t there. Once he thought Andy Griffith walked by.

And yet despite his disordered mind, he always has a positive attitude. When I ask him how he’s doing, he often says, “I can’t complain. I’ve had better days, but you know, you just have to make the best of it.”

This makes it easy to remember the man he was. Family, friends and people in his community have long known him as a wise, kind, generous man who would take a homeless person to a restaurant and buy him a meal; a hardworking family man, and a steadfast Christian who always attended church no matter what shift he’d just gotten off, and even while on vacation with the family. He would find some church in whatever town they were visiting and take the family on Sunday morning—the fishing and sandcastles could wait.  He prayed faithfully and read his Bible consistently, and everywhere he went, he never knew a stranger. He talked to people everywhere: at the gas station, grocery store, doctor’s office, and it didn’t matter if he knew them or not. He often encouraged people to look to Jesus and go to church. Without fail he was gracious, selfless, and respectful of everyone he knew, no matter where they came from or how young or old they were.

And he still does this today, even in his mentally incapacitated state.

The care staff has only known him as he is now: a nearly blind, nearly deaf, nonsensical old man who needs help with everything most of us do without thinking, like walking, eating, and using the bathroom. We’ve overheard him thanking the caregivers and apologizing for causing them trouble. They tell us often that he is one of the kindest people they know. This is a man who can no longer use logic and reason and has absolutely no control over anything he thinks or says. He has no filters, so what he thinks, he says.

Even with dementia—or rather because of it—he is teaching me something important about the indwelling Spirit of God.

I try to be kind, and I try to be generous, and once in a while, I try to be self-sacrificing, especially if I know it will bless someone. To be honest, kindness and selflessness are not natural reflexes for me (unlike sarcasm and sampling cookie dough), so for me to act this way is more of a conscious decision, a choice. As in an all-out flesh-wrangling choice. I’d like to think I’m developing more Christ-like reflexes…

Meanwhile, as I was praying for my father in law this morning, it occurred to me that this man has absolutely no choice over his behavior, and yet the fruit of the Spirit is clearly evident in him. The goodness and faithfulness and kindness and generosity he shows to those around him come from a place well beyond his mind—a much deeper place. He cannot will himself to act in any certain way. The way he treats others is motivated solely by his spirit, a place in which the Spirit of God clearly and fully dwells.

He didn’t build a cathedral or start a mega church or write a theology book or travel the world to preach the gospel. But what he did was just as phenomenal. His faith is simple and astounding. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back” could be his life song, because, as an adult who had tasted of the world, he gave his heart to Jesus and didn’t turn back and has lived out this decision for more than 50 years.  This man and his spirit-filled life have encouraged the faith of countless people. He aimed to follow Jesus all his days, and this aim has served him in the end because whether he knows it or not, he is finishing the race well. He doesn’t know it, but he’s teaching me about the miraculous indwelling of the Spirit of God, and he is inspiring me to be as purposeful in my aim, and to finish well. He doesn’t know this but his wisdom and his faith are still guiding me.

What a miraculous thing, to be so thoroughly motivated by the Spirit of God. I pray that Christ would so inhabit me that his likeness, the fruit of his Spirit, would flow as effortlessly from me.

fruitQ: Do you ever think about what you’d think and say if you had no controlling filter on your thoughts and words? What motivates your words and actions?

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hurtWhen you are hurt or don’t like the way a person makes you feel, do you assume they have wrong or hurtful motives toward you? Do you assume they are disrespecting you, or acting out of jealousy, or wanting to make you look bad or that they are dismissing your worth, or whatever is your particular “trigger” for feeling hurt or offended? (we all have one….)

Just how far have you let your assumptions run? Have you later found out you were wrong? That they were not out to hurt you? That you misread their actions?

I have. And it’s been done to me, so I know that it hurts to be falsely accused of wrong motives.

I have seen how my assumptions have caused me to foster and feed resentment, negativity, and thoughts that lead to sin. All based on an assumption (or suspicion). Sometimes those suspicions are founded, but more often, unfounded. But even if my assumptions about others’ motives are founded, I have found that harboring resentment causes attitudes and thoughts that lead to my sin, like critical words or some resentful/retaliatory act which can then cause far more hurt than the original thing that started it.

Who wants to see us fall into the trap of sin? Who is the one with TRUE malicious motives? The devil. God, as a triune being, is clearly a God of relationship. It is very important to him. The devil hates that we can have relationship with God and with one another. He prowls around seeking to destroy God’s children and our relationships. Do you realize that the enemy knows your sore spot and delights in finding ways to bait you so you will trip and fall?

Feeling hurt or offended can be a sin trap for some of us, so we need to be on guard and recognize the steps leading to it.

Hurt feelings/offense => assumption => resentment => sinful response => double hurt => division/destruction of relationship

If you also struggle in this way, let’s pray for one another that we will recognize the trap before us when hurt or offense leads to assumption, resentment, and beyond. Let’s check our thoughts. If you’re like me, critical thoughts can be hard to reign in even when recognized. Thankfully, the Bible tells us that we can take our thoughts “captive” with Christ’s help. By his spirit, we can do what is too difficult for us. If we ask, he will handcuff those suckers and march them off to jail.

Dear Lord, please help me not to assign or assume negative motives in others that result in resentment and other sinful attitudes and actions in me. Help me take my negative thoughts captive and hand them over to you (and leave them with you!). Help me bring hurts and offenses to you instead, and please heal me of the “triggers” that the enemy knows set me off so easily. Help me recognize the sin trap that hurt feelings can set me up for.

Amen?

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