Posted in Faith

How God Lifted Me


There are no better lessons in grace than those in-the-valley moments in this life that all humans must face at one point or another. In those shadowed, veiled times, we might be tempted to turn away from a God we didn’t have such a great understanding of in the first place. Or, we might turn to Him for miracles that He sometimes grants and often provides in some out-of-nowhere way it may take years of living to figure out. We might just wallow, giving ourselves heaping mouthfuls of mud to go along with the bitter tastes in our mouths.

The first lesson to learn in the valley is that you are not alone. Even if you are having a rather one-sided argument with God at the moment, blocking out his ever-presence in your life, you don’t have to seek too far away in the valley to see the tell-tale signs of fellow sufferers. Being human, you’re likely to gravitate toward those who have chosen your same approach to hardship so that you might commiserate together.

I’ve been in the valley for the last several years. My husband’s family and my own have faced challenges with terminal illness of those we hold closest to us. My father-in-law and brother-in-law each lost his battle with cancer within weeks of each other during the holidays the year before last. My mother was diagnosed with ALS, and my parents daily struggle with the challenges of coping with this dreaded, dreadful disease.

So, as much as anybody out there, I think I have the right to ask the unanswerable questions, like why God lets bad things happen to good people, or why nature itself has to be as evil as any serial killer you can find on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

But, these really weren’t questions I had to find answers for as this long journey in the shadows continues for me because God has granted me so many spiritual mentors and fruitful lessons from my Bible studies. I know that God cares for all of us. I know that this life with all its troubles is not what He had originally planned when He plopped Adam and Eve in a garden paradise. I survive because I have faith that God will work to the good even the most horrific things that happen in this life for those, like me, who strive to walk by faith in our belief.

My spiritual mentors have been many. I have friends who hold God close to their hearts. They have introduced me to great Bible teachers like Ravi Zacharias, Andy Stanley, and Randy Harris, men who do a good job of putting Biblical concepts into modern-day language. These are men who value the love of Jesus and who know that grace is something we all need in equal measure. Instead of judging other people, these mentors have taught me to seek the good in others in order to spread Jesus’ most precious gift of forgiveness through grace.

As a writer, I admire what apologists such as Philip Yancey and Sarah Young and novelists like Charles Martin and Francine Rivers can do when they put pen to paper and allow God’s gift to flow through them.  I have learned that it’s okay to ask questions about and of God, that staying in a mode of thankfulness draws me closer to God, that the strength of our relationships on earth can reflect the strength of our interactions with our Savior, that the kind of love that truly puts the other first will never fail.

My days have been dark and will be darker still, but I will continue to walk by faith. These are no longer bumper-sticker words to me, but the result of persevering. I study my Bible, I pray continually, I share my belief with others, I am open to learning from God and fellow believers. Some days, many days, I have to choose that today is a good day for a good day.  I have had to learn to cut myself some breaks. I have learned that helping others even when my own world is crumbling helps me feel better.  I lean on the understanding that this life is about becoming something for the next life. God, my potter, is molding the clay that is me into a masterpiece for His kingdom.

I am comforted by the idea that some day, when my perseverance is complete, the angels will dance.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

The Sower of Seeds: A Parable of Jesus

PhotoFunia-grain

Jesus often taught His lessons to the masses in the form of parables–spiritual truths gleaned from comparison to everyday experiences using analogy.  The parable of the sower of seeds is one such parable, which gives us a good picture of the different kinds of responses that are possible to the message of Christ.

The sower’s seeds fall on four different kinds of ground:

  1. Beside the road
  2. On rocky places
  3. Among thorns
  4. On good soil.

The seeds beside the road never have a chance to grow because the birds eat them up before they can take any root.  These represent people who have no response to the message of salvation.  They hear His Word but don’t understand because Satan snatches the message away before they have a chance to believe.

The seeds that land on rocky places spring up quickly, but have no roots.  Without roots, these same seeds just as quickly whither when the sun beats down on them. These seeds represent the emotional response to the Word. The rocky soil person hears God’s Word with joy, but because he has no root in himself, he gives up at the first challenge to his faith.

The seeds among thorns spring up, but get choked out by the thorns that surround them. This is a worldly response to the Word. Even though this person allows the seed to grow, very soon the worries of this world, the charms of wealth, and the pleasures of this world choke out the core message of the Word.

The seeds on good soil yield crops one hundred, sixty, thirty times the quantity of the original seed. These seeds represent the fruitful response to the Word, those people who understand Christ’s Truth and act in such a way as to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God because of that belief:

“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:15)

Even though we cannot earn salvation, once we attain salvation through our faith, we don’t have any choice but to do the works that are the natural result of a true faith. The Ryrie Study Bible (NASB) explains it this way: “Both Paul and James define faith as a living, productive trust in Christ.” James writes,

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith [which is a dead faith] save him? . . . You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2: 14, 19-20)

The seeds in good soil bear fruit, whether that is taking a meal to a widow or paying a compliment to a perfect stranger to brighten someone’s day. Any action that reflects the light of the Lord takes a step in faith of bearing fruit. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead,” James concludes, “so also faith without works is dead” (2:26).  To grow our roots, we have to work to create the good soil that will foster our faith in the One and Only.

Perseverance is the key to making the parable of the sower a reality in your own life. Without perseverance, you might let the worries of this world choke out your faith. Without perseverance, you might fail to attain the roots you need to hold on to your faith when the troubles of this life challenge you. We fertilize our good soil by studying the Word, praying continually, and finding fellowship with other believers.

In good soil, we can truly persevere to bear fruit that is the end result of a faith that is fully awake.

*Note: The parable of the sower, made during Christ’s sermon on the seashore, can be read in Matthew 13:5, Mark 4:3-8 and Luke 8:5-8.

Posted in Faith

3 Ways to Fertilize Your Faith

Grow your mustard seeds of faith
Grow your mustard seeds of faith

That the communication of your faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.  (Philemon 1:6)

 1: Know WHAT You are Fertilizing

When it comes to plant products that have been bottled to be sold as food supplements in a health store, I can tell you more than you ever wanted to know.  But, when it comes to real plants in the real world?  Well, I’ve been known to kill bamboo!

Despite my brown thumb, my West Texas roots have taught me that knowing your crop is the beginning key to success.  When to plant, when to harvest, when to pray for rain–these are just some of the elements that go into the very hard job of being a farmer.

Just like knowing the plant you want to grow before you can expect to succeed in growing it, you should also begin your goals to grow your faith by understanding what faith means.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith:

is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson states it this way:

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.

The heroes of faith are further examples to help us define the concept.  From Noah who believed enough to build an Ark to Mary who had the courage to bring the Son of God into the world, the Bible is replete with people who understood faith in the most profound way possible, by believing and doing.

The most important step of faith in this modern world is the one you take to submit your life to Christ as your Savior.  When you admit to Him that you are a sinner who has no chance of redemption without Him, you climb the first rung of the ladder toward a closer relationship with God that is the ultimate goal of faith.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis

Faith is believing in God when things are bleakest as well as when things are going well for you.  Faith is the beginning of hope, which is the most important quality for us to have if we expect to make it through the valleys of this life.  Faith is knowing that God IS and the He loves me.

2: Know HOW to Fertilize

 

With faith as small as this mustard seed, Christ says we can move mountains.
With faith as small as this mustard seed, Christ says we can move mountains.

 

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”  –Elbert Hubbard

As Elbert Hubbard explains, in order to grow a belief in God, we cannot expect to proceed easily.  Christ promises us a light yoke, but not a life without trouble.  In fact, it is through troubles that we learn perseverance, which builds character and ultimately leads to hope (Romans 5:4).

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right.
― Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones

In order to grow our faith, we have to exercise it, like a muscle.  As with all things concerning our relationship with God, we can begin that exercise by studying His word, spending time in prayer with Him and joining in fellowship with other believers to share our belief.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  ― Corrie ten Boom

Other ways to fertilize our faith is to learn to listen with intent to the voice of the Holy Spirit in us.  When we feel the pull to reach out to help a stranger or say something about our beliefs to our acquaintances, we should become more accustomed to following those feelings.  The more we know about what the Bible says, the more we will know it is God talking to us and not our own interests.

Fertilizing our faith will often be uncomfortable because it will mean stepping outside our normal comfort zones.  Sitting in my recliner writing a blog is not the easiest thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, since sitting here doing nothing at all would be easier, but writing has always at least been comfortable for me.  Making my way to church on Sunday is stepping outside my comfort zone.  As an introvert, I am highly challenged in group settings, and large groups can lead to sensory overload for me.

But, going to church improves my faith.  Besides learning things about the Bible I didn’t already know, my church attendance has also allowed me to meet a wide variety of people who share my same goals and struggles but who approach them in ways I would have never thought of but greatly admire.  I have learned better ways to approach life’s problems and even to pray by participating in church, fertilizing my faith.

3: Make Faith Personal

The beginnings of this blog post came when I was thinking about how helpful God has been to me in my life, despite my literally clinical problem with worry.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which comes with unhealthy bouts of depression.  With the proper medication, nutritional support, and help from my family and friends, I lead a pretty productive life.  But the thought that I had earlier this week was thinking about how I spend so much time worrying about things that are going to happen, but when something really does happen, I am somehow able to be really strong and make it through the bad thing.

My power in times of crisis doesn’t come from medicine or me, but from God.  So, as I was thinking about this earlier this week, I was asking myself, how come I’m not doing a better job at remembering how often God comes through for me when I let worry win out over my faith? 

So, when I suggest making your faith personal, I mean just that.  However you do it–journaling, scrapbooking, or making time to remember on a regular basis–make your faith stronger by building on your personal experiences with faith.  We don’t have to be prophets to have real experiences with God.

In fact, when Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, He made it more possible than ever for “regular” people like you and me to experience God every day.  Of all the people in history, we can have as close a relationship with God as any of the heroes of faith you’ll find in Hebrews 11.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  –Psalm 91:2

In Nicole Nordeman’s song, What If?, the singer asks:

What if you jump, just close your eyes?  What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough?  What if it’s LOVE?

Faith is personal, but it’s not something to be hoarded.  Sharing our experiences of faith with others is what helps us spread God’s love in a broken world.  Faith has the courage to admit that what good we do comes from God and not ourselves.  Faith has the courage to step out knowing we may stumble.  Faith knows that even if we wind up with egg on our face, God catches us and always loves us.

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” ― C.S. Lewis

Each time I hit post, I risk offending somebody, looking foolish, or making an actual mistake in a cyberspace where they say nothing ever actually goes away.  But faith without works, as James tells us, is a dead faith.  How can I not risk everything for the One who gave everything for me?

Grow your faith muscle this week.  If we truly believe, what other choice have we?

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Who Said We’d Be Rescued?

pile-of-rocks

Who told us we’d be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
We’re asking why this happens to us

Who have died to live; it’s unfair
This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive

This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held…..

Natalie Grant, “Held” lyrics

In Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God when it hurts?, he points out how important pain really is.  Without pain, how would we know what it is to feel joy?  Paul reflects numerous times on the many trials that he faced as he boldly continued to exalt the good news of redemption through Christ:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  –Romans 5:3-4

Just because we have chosen to believe in Christ and walk in the ways of righteousness does not mean that we escape the challenges of this life.  For whatever reason, God needs us to grow into that hope in His promises.  So, even when things are so low that you wonder, God, I have confessed my belief in You, can’t You just let me go home to You already, you have to continue in faith of the larger plan that only God knows.

The prayer requests in Bible class in recent weeks have included a growing number of believers whose lives are being not only challenged, but outright shattered.  And yet, as believers, we must continue through faith to go before God in hope and pray for the “peace that transcends understanding,” the peace and strength that can only come from God and that is our only key to getting back into the good race that we must run (Paul writes about this race analogy too, in 2 Timothy for one, and you can also read about it in Hebrews).

I have been pretty down on myself in the last few weeks, feeling like I have too easily caved to recent events in my own life.  I was pretty quick to give up hope when I had to put down my cat.  She was very sick with nothing left to do for her, so it was the right thing.  And when I hear the prayer requests I mentioned earlier, they are about problems way, way bigger than losing a cat.  I wonder with trepidation what I will do when I have to face the really big challenges.  Where will my hope be then?

Of course, then I remember that I have been facing challenges just like we all do in my 44 years.  Both my parents are cancer survivors.  I have had to live in the big city I never liked without being able to live near my family for my entire married life, and I am the kind of child who still talks to her parents every day on the phone, so this is no small feat.  I have dealt with medical issues myself that haven’t been life-threatening, but have definitely reduced the quality of my life.

And yet, through all of these challenges, I have continued to work to grow my relationship with God.  I keep trying to spread His word and do His will, even when a lot of days I wonder just what I think I am doing.  So, maybe I am not so bad in the hope department as I thought.

I share these things because I have learned the hard way that being able to hear what other people really think deep inside can be helpful.  When you hear somebody else express an emotion or reaction that you too have had, you don’t feel so alone in the universe.  You don’t feel so guilty about having a thought.  You realize you are not alone.

With God, of course, we really never are alone.  That’s part of what Jesus meant when He told us, “my burden is light.”  Being held by the Love of loves may be hard to feel when you are in the midst of overwhelming grief, but as you begin to come out of the deep hole of despair, you realize that the only thing that kept you from falling completely away were the Arms of that hope you foster every time you pray, join in fellowship, or read His word–what it means to be held, as Natalie Grant puts it.

May the grace of hope in Him bless all of us this week, whether we are dealing with the worst thing that has ever happened to us in our lives or just a flat tire on the freeway.  As the Psalmists remind us:

The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy. . . . Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.  –Psalm 33:18, 22