Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Unexpected Bout with Doubt

Faith is one of my most prominent spiritual gifts, so it is usually easy for me to believe that which I can’t necessarily see.  But recently, as I began to ponder why certain things happen, especially after periods of fervent prayer, I found myself in a pickle.  Brutal honesty brought a hard realization:  I experienced some doubts about the power of prayer.

The details don’t matter, and I’m thrilled to report that I’m on the mend.  I don’t believe myself completely cured, but praise the Lord I have turned in the right direction again.  Here’s how the Lord got me there:  

First, He met me in my time of need when I cried out to Him for help.  Like the father whose son was thrown into the fire by a demonic spirit, I cried out to the Lord, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”  (Mark 9:24 NASB).   Never has this statement, seemingly so contradictory to itself, made so much sense.  I do believe that God is in control, sovereign, and kind.  At the same time, my heart is broken over the disappointment of matters given Him in prayer that do not look anything like I had hoped.

He has helped my unbelief and bolstered my faith by helping me recall “memorial stones” – the times in my life when His faithfulness and sovereignty were overwhelming.  As I lead a group of women through the book, Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit (available here), I re-read my own words:  “Even when what I see looks different from what I expect, I know who is in charge and surrender my cares to Him.”  This is a significant and very encouraging look at a personal memorial stone; it reminded me that this is not the first time life turned in directions I did not expect.  God was faithful then, and He will show His faithfulness now.  

Next, He showed me those in the Bible who struggled with doubt.  “Doubting Thomas,” walked alongside our Savior as His disciple, yet doubted His resurrection and asked for proof.  John the Baptist also had questions and asked that the Lord confirm whether Jesus was the One for whom John was sent to prepare the way.  If these two mighty men of God had periods of doubt, it’s reasonable to expect that I will face uncertainties too.  

Through His Word, the Lord reminded me that He does not condemn us for our doubt, but rather comforts us when we seek Him in spite of it. He gently and gracefully handles our questions and reservations.   Thomas and John both went directly to Jesus, the source of Truth, with their questions. To Thomas, He showed His nail-pierced hands.  To John, He quoted Scripture and presented fulfillment of prophecy.   He scolded neither, but lovingly gave each what he needed to cast his doubts aside. 

His love for me, even in my period of struggle, reached through a sermon from our pastor who knew nothing about my internal battle.  Through the sermon the Holy Spirit reminded me that God works ALL things together for the good of those called according to His purpose.  ALL things include matters that we might expect to look a particular way even when they end up looking almost completely opposite.   He works them ALL together for good.

Lord, thank You for loving us so fully and for showing Your grace even when our faith falters.  Thank You for showing me that in the life of spiritual giants and even in my own meager existence, You handle our questions and misgivings with care and tenderness.  I’m grateful that You are entirely trustworthy, whether or not I understand the things I see.  I believe.  Continue to help my unbelief!

“I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 CSB

Monday, January 21, 2013

Overcoming Shame

The ugliness of shame makes me shudder.  It is a covering of darkness thrown over us by the enemy as a tool to take us captive.  With it, Satan blinds us to the rock-solid truth of Christ’s love, thereby stealing our joy and carrying us away as though a spoil of war.

I believe that all of us carry some measure of shame.  Often it stems from sin or other past events that we choose to keep hidden.  We’d simply rather not discuss it.  Shame is a secret.   It is far different from guilt, which says, “I made a mistake.”  Shame says, “I am a mistake.”  There is no part of life that is unaffected by the burden of the shame that we carry. 

This week marks 40 years of legalized abortion in America through Roe v. Wade, and it is recorded that 1.5 million abortions are performed each year.  Millions of women struggle with shame over this issue and carry deep hurt and regret.  Shame also comes from sources of…

Adultery                 Addictions                      Sin                         

Debt                      Condemnation                Eating Disorders

Incest                    Obesity                            Crime

Rape                      Anger                             Abandonment

I could go on for hours with such a list.  Whether I’ve named your particular source of shame or not, you know what I’m talking about.  Satan makes us feel alone, as if we are the only one in the world with such an ugly past.  Remember that Satan is a liar and regardless of your source of shame, you are not alone!

There is forgiveness, redemption and healing at the Cross!  Confessing our past to Him and sharing our heartfelt regret and sorrow (as David did in Psalm 51), brings freedom and helps us accept the healing that Christ offers.

“Imagine yourself captive in a jail cell.  You are weeping and lamenting because prison is awful.  Jesus stands at the jail cell, waiting for you.  He wants to set you free and says, ‘Give yourself to me and come out!’  He has already paid the bond, overcome the enemy, and unlocked the door to the jail cell so that you are free to leave.  All you must do is make a choice to leave the prison, decide to open the door, and follow Him to accept your freedom.

Many times, we choose to stay in the jail cell.  We believe that we have finally done or experienced the one thing that is too big for the redemptive work of the cross.  The role of victim is comfortable and we feel safe in our chains of captivity.  Jesus provides for our freedom, but we lack the willingness to move forward toward Him.   You may have heard stories of those incarcerated for many years that lose confidence to function outside of the prison walls.  The thought of freedom is terrifying to them because they have forgotten how to navigate life on their own.  Conversely, when Christ offers freedom, He lives it out with us!

He does not scorn us, turn His back on us, nor leave us in our shameful state.  Isn’t it time you joined Him beyond the cell of your shame and enjoyed your freedom with Him and His people?” *

Confess it.  Receive His unending forgiveness.  Move in confidence toward the joy set before you and delight in His goodness with unhindered celebration!

Isaiah 54:4a  
Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; 
Neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; 
But you will forget the shame of your youth

* Excerpt from Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit (available here).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spinning Plates

A sweet friend recently texted, “praying for you and the massive amount of plates you are spinning.”  My reply:  “Thanks SO much for prayers.  I thought it was just my head that was spinning!”

You’ve heard the saying: if you want something done and done well, ask a busy person.  While there’s some truth to that, we – especially we women –must take care in how often we say yes.  We want to show ourselves productive.  We long to help others and feel needed (I believe that’s part of our DNA).  We certainly want to do our fair share of the work, especially in ministry.  But when is enough too much?

The parable of the sower in Luke 8 has been much on my mind these days.  First of all, in perhaps my 27th reading of these particular words of Jesus, I honed in on four separate types of ground on which the seed fell.  Honestly up until now, I would have told the story and included only three types of soil.  (I’ve said for years that I have a Swiss-cheese memory.  This is proof.)

Which type of soil was I overlooking?  The type that applies to me, of course.  In Luke 8:14, Jesus said, “The seed which fell among the thorns, those are the ones who have heard and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”  As I meditate on these words, I identify some obvious distractions that choke my fruitfulness, but other “distractions” are from very good things.  For example, I gain great pleasure from serving the Lord in ministry, but when I say yes to things that He never intended for me, even those good things choke out my calling.  Those are plates I should not try to spin as they take time that could be dedicated to what produces the mature fruit He desires from me. 

What it boils down to is this:  Distractions - both the good things and the bad – can overwhelm us to the point where we “bring no fruit to maturity.”  What seems urgent can make me lose sight of my calling.  Time spent on the good rather than on the goal hinders the production of mature fruit. 

I’m learning, Lord.  Yes, I’m learning.  Take each moment in my day and make it Your own.  Help me in each moment to focus on Your priorities, on Your best interests and help me to serve You in undistracted ways to Your honor and glory.  Help me serve You with all I have, after all, there is much work to be done in this lost world.  But direct my steps and give me laser focus on Your specific calling for me.   May I receive Your Word with an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.  (Luke 8:15).

I’d love to hear from you…   To what has God called you?  How do you know you’re called to that particular area?  What’s keeping you from pursuing that goal with reckless abandon?   What distractions (either good or bad) are in your way?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Asking WHY?

It’s the first full week of January, 2013 and if you’re like me, a few of those New Year’s resolutions already bit the dust.   It’s easy to set a goal, but a goal is nothing more than a good intention until we take action and turn it into reality.  For me, the fuel that helps me “press on to reach the goal,” boils down to the reason WHY I want to reach the goal at all.  With an inspiring WHY behind my resolutions, I’ll achieve them more often than not.  Without one, I often set myself up for failure.  

Years ago, a friend shared his WHY as it related to his healthy eating choices and disciplined exercise routine.  He’d watched parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents on both sides of his family struggle with and finally succumb to heart disease at very young ages.  Our friend’s motivation was to someday see his future children grow up and to live long enough to be part of their lives.  That’s an extremely motivating WHY, wouldn’t you say? 

When he desired a slice of cheesecake, instead of thinking of the enjoyable taste, he thought of his unborn children and found the self-control to resist the temptation.  After a late night when he might prefer to sleep in he imagined future high school graduations and weddings, which motivated him to get out of bed and head to the gym.  His WHY kept him moving in the right direction because his WHY was much larger than the daily temptations which could cause him to fail. 

Throughout his writings, the Apostle Paul provided many examples of having a strong WHY in pursuing a life worthy of his calling.   As he taught and encouraged fellow believers, he used the term “so that” over 200 times in his writings and often used  terms like, “because”, “ therefore”, and “for this reason.”   Not only did Paul know his WHY, but he shared it often and kept it in the forefront of his teachings.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it continues to keep believers inspired and moving toward action 2000 years later.

The first week of the New Year is a great time to get out those resolutions (I hope you wrote them down) and ask yourself WHY you would like to accomplish each of them.  What’s you’re driving force?  What keeps you motivated?  Allow your WHY to help you “press on toward the goal” and turn those intentions into realities!

“But one thing I do: 
forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on toward the goal
for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. “  
Philippians 3:13b-14 (NASB)

“For I am confident of this very thing, 
that He who began a good work in you 
will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  
Philippians 1:6

I'd love to hear the WHY behind some of the changes you'd like to make this year.  Please share them in the comments.  Chances are, you'll inspire us all!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Finding Joy Beyond Christmas

I wanted to share a article that I wrote.  It was published today by Mentoring Moments for Christian Women.  I pray it will bless you this New Year!

Click here to read Joy Beyond Christmas