The Wispy Tendrils of Faith

I’ve been a Christian since I was a teenager–almost forty years, actually, and my faith has seemed to be different in every season of my life. From rock-solid faith to holding on by the barest thread, I have done my best to live according to this faith I say I hold.

Earlier in my life, living as a Christian meant saying the right words, doing the right things, and always putting up a front at church. If someone asked you how you were, the answer was always great. Most people I knew seemed to measure their faith by how well someone was doing–financially, socially, emotionally, mentally, or physically. The ones who were doing the best always claimed to be blessed by God which left me wondering what happened to those who didn’t appear to be so blessed.

Now that I’m in my fifties and have learned a lot of life lessons, I know this isn’t true. God blesses all of His children whether they are rich or poor, and His blessings are not just material ones. Being like Jesus is more complicated than you might think, and people in the church who you respect can and will let you down. I also understand better what Jesus said in John 16:33. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over come the world.”

I understand now that I will have trouble while I am here. It’s a fact. I’ve had plenty of trouble during my life so why should that change? And because of this, I shouldn’t try to do anything of worldly significance. Rather, I should be doing things that will have eternal significance because, won’t I be in heaven for eternity?

Where does that leave my faith, and what does today’s title mean? I thought you might ask. 🙂 Holding on to faith and trust is so hard these days. I was thinking about this yesterday and realized that the wispy tendrils that come from airplanes reminded me of my faith. You can see them just briefly as an airplane passes, and it’s almost like you can reach out and grab them before they disappear. That’s how I’ve felt like with my faith over the past few months. With all the bad things that have happened and no let-up in sight, I have grabbed on to whatever wisps of strength and encouragement God has sent me. More often than not, I can’t see them, and the parts of me that hurt hold onto the fragments of faith I still have. This helped me think of today’s title which led to this verse from Scripture.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

I’ve always liked this verse, but it means more to me now. It’s confidence in what is to come, not in what is happening now, and it’s assurance in God’s sovereign nature when we can’t see it. God gives us plenty of things we can see, but He wants us to trust Him when we can’t see what He gives us. That, in my opinion, is true faith.

So, I will keep walking; I will keep giving; and I will keep holding on to the wispy tendrils of my faith as God molds my character into the person He wants me to be! Thank you, Jesus!

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

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The Hard Questions

Have you ever been in a meeting where the person ended his talk with asking ‘Are there any questions?’ Come on, raise your hands. We’ve all been there. This can happen in any situation–at work, school, church, or in the community. The speaker wants to know if anyone has any questions he can answer.

So, what happens after this particular question is asked? People can look like a deer caught in headlights. They stumble over their words. Some people try to think of a question that doesn’t make them sound confrontational, or maybe they do want to be confrontational to get the answers they want. 🙂 There’s no way to know the mindset of the people in the room.

Sometimes, the questions asked are not expected, and the speaker has to scramble for an answer. This happened to me recently. I was at a meeting about the resignation of a person. The first two people who raised their hands didn’t really have questions to ask. They just wanted to compliment the speaker and tell him how much his tenure had meant to them.

Then, I thought of my question. Since his resignation was going to affect my son, I asked it. He didn’t know how to answer and had to come up with something off the cuff. The question was fairly innocuous, but I was surprised that no one would have thought a parent of a child in the group would have the question I had.

But, then, my mind turned to wondering just like it does before I have a writing idea whether it be for this blog or something else. What about the hard questions? Why do people want to hurt each other? Why do people want to steal? Why do people try to conceal the bad things they’ve done? What makes a person want to do bad things? We can come up with pat answers to these questions. We can even say it’s because of “sin nature” and think we’re done with it.

What about the harder questions though? Why did my child have to die? Why did the tornado or hurricane destroy my house? How come I have cancer? Why did I lose my job? Why does it seem like I’m the only one who struggles? Why is life so hard?

And then there are those questions that come with being a believer. Why does it seem like God has forgotten me? Why are people looking at me? I thought the church welcomed everyone. Why is it wrong for people to want to create? How is it wrong to ask questions about the budget? Why do people seem to judge more than they love? Why can’t we embrace our differences? What kind of songs should we sing in church? How many times should we have communion in a month? Do I trust God for His provision? There are many more questions one could ask as a believer.

I know I’ve peppered this post with a lot of questions (that goes with the title and all, 😉 ). They are questions I can’t answer, and I don’t think a lot of you have answers either. I don’t believe we will know the answer to most of them until we’re with our Lord and Savior. So, what happens in the meantime while we are living in the tension between this world and the next? I’m glad you asked. 🙂 For me, I think it will be a continual work in progress. I will pray to God for faith, patience, and strength. I pray that I will lean into Him for His comfort when I run into these unanswerable questions. And I pray that I will show Jesus’ love in whatever situation I am in and be the agent of change He wants me to be. So grateful that my Lord and Savior is fine with me asking any question I want to, even the hard ones!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Hope in God’s Promises

It’s four days into December, and our thoughts have gone to having the most “perfect” Christmas possible. It’s what we see in the secular world. It’s what we see in the church. Everything has to be “perfect”at Christmas. It’s when Jesus was born.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the quotation marks I placed around perfect. We all know that life isn’t perfect at Christmas much as we might like to pretend it is. It’s not perfect at any other time of the year either. Why should Christmas be any different? The pictures of people on social media going through life with their best friends can be frustrating to people in a different reality. Social media, in general, can be frustrating to people at Christmas whose reality is far different from what the pictures portray.

That’s where I’m at today. Lack of money, lack of time, wondering what the next day is going to bring with all of the bad things that have happened recently. Trying to stay faithful to God, but knowing that the things I’d like to do just won’t be possible this year. You could say that this month is a frustrating end to a frustrating year.

But, it really isn’t so don’t quit reading. Even with the frustrations and the health issues, I do have blessings. I know I will be treasured on my birthday by my husband and my sons even if no one else remembers. I will be blessed by getting to spend time with my birthday buddy this weekend. I will be blessed when my first son turns 21 later on in the month. And I am thoroughly blessed that my sons know the true meaning of Christmas and that the trappings don’t matter to them.

I am even more blessed by God’s promises which is my point in writing this post today. Even if I had nothing and was homeless, I would still have my Lord and Savior, and that is what I consider the most important!

Here are a few of those promises so you can be comforted as I have been.

From Psalm 119:50, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”

Verse 76 in the same chapter says this, “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”

John 3:16 is the ultimate promise of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the World that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I like this one from Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I also like the one from Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

But, the one that I treasure the most and the one that I think is appropriate for this Christmas season comes from what Elizabeth said to Mary in Luke 1:45. “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.”

So, if your circumstances are not the best this month, don’t look at what the world says about Christmas. Don’t even look at what the church says about Christmas. Go to God’s Word and read the promises He has written to us. They are the best hope we will ever receive!

May we all rest our hope in the Lord’s promises this morning!

(Feel free to add more of God’s promises in the comments.)

Decisions

I’m back from the Thanksgiving holidays now and ready to tackle another one of the prompts I found on bibleconnectionnews.com. The subject of the prompt is one we face every day or one we face several of each day, but it wasn’t something I’ve put a lot of thought into, at least on the writing front.

First, the prompt. “You make decisions every day, often without thinking much about it. Cereal or eggs for breakfast? Finish homework or hang with friends? Be grumpy or kind to the family? And some decisions are crossroads which will affect the rest of your life. What major decision do you have to make? Spend some time journaling your options; then pray about it and let God give you his peace.”

Decisions. We don’t think much about them until we have to make a major one. Then, we spend all of our time trying to figure out what direction God wants us to go in. We pray for an epiphany to come from above so we will know for certain we are making the decision God wants us to make. And then, when one doesn’t, we do an eenie, meenie, miney mo, snatch one of the choices from the air, and hope for the best. We would like to know for certain we are making the right decision, but more often than not, we end up trusting our own judgment.

I feel like I need to have the decision about what I’m going to do next all figured out by the time my younger son graduates from high school in May. And it needs to be this big, over-arching decision that will do major things for God’s kingdom.

Coupled with that, I feel like I need to make a big point of not wanting grandchildren right away. When my older son graduated from high school two years ago, one of the women at our church said, in his hearing, that wouldn’t it be nice if he started giving me grandchildren in five years. He had this look of panic on his face like he would get in trouble if he didn’t agree. I shook my head to let him know he was okay with me on that front. I asked the woman if she realized that my son was only 18 and said that maybe ten years would be better. When I got home, I reiterated to both of my sons that they would not get any pressure from me as to when they got married or had children. It’s none of my business about either. I want them to be out of college and working before marriage or children looms on the horizon. Those decisions are theirs and theirs alone.

So, back to my decision. It’s funny that I was diverted by the decisions that my sons will make about their future. We have a tendency to want to put our nose into decisions that belong to other people so we don’t have to focus on our own. In the church, we also celebrate grandchildren to the point that when people don’t have any, they think that something is wrong with them. Families are important. I don’t dispute that. I just feel like that we graduate our kids from high school and then tell them (not necessarily with words) to come back when they are married and have a family. Is it a wonder that our young people are leaving the church in droves? With people taking longer to marry plus divorces and widowhood, there is not a lot of opportunity for people to get involved in the church if they have to wait until they are married.

I also refuse to be relegated to something just because I am a woman. Earlier in my life, the church showed messages to me which said the only things women could do in the church were to teach other women or children. I taught children for a while and really loved it, but don’t feel called to do that anymore. Women are a powerful force in our churches, and, in general, I believe they are under-utilized.

I don’t know if that will change with my generation though. It might take the generations coming after me to make those kind of changes in the church. So, my decision isn’t necessarily one that will make big, overarching changes in God’s kingdom. I think about the relationships I have with children, young people, younger adults, people of my generation, and those who are older. And it comes to me. That’s it! The decision about what I will do when I am an empty-nester comes through my relationships – one relationship at a time, one day at a time – stating what I believe in and how I go about showing it. Challenging the status quo and showing what God really means when He says I am his daughter. Peace comes to me. The peace that is talked about in John 14:27. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Thank you, God, for giving us your peace!

Praying God’s blessings on everyone today!

Forgiveness

Trying another one of the prompts from bibleconnectionnews.com today as part of my challenge. This one promises to be difficult because it involves something that’s hard for me and, more than likely, hard for the rest of us too.

First, here’s the prompt. “Forgiveness. Is it easy or hard? That likely depends on whether you are the one doing the forgiving or receiving it. Why do you think forgiving someone can be so difficult? Who do you need to forgive? When have you received the incredible gift of forgiveness?”

I think forgiveness is hard, but I believe what it really depends on is what side of the forgiveness table you are on. Last week, I wrote about justice and grace, https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/justice-and-grace/, and how we like it when some of the definitions of grace are extended our way, but not when we need to extend them to others. I believe the same thing applies with forgiveness. It’s easy to be the gracious one when extending forgiveness (most of the time). It puts us in a “higher” position than the one doing the asking and gives us a level of “control” over the process. We can say yes. We can say no. But, we have “control”, sometimes more “control” than what God wants us to have.

The hard thing, for me, is having to ask for forgiveness. It means admitting I’ve done something wrong. It means I have to let loose of some of the “control” I supposedly have over my life. It means letting someone in past the shields I have put up and letting them see the bad person I have been. It means being true and authentic when I have no reason to be true and authentic or when I don’t want to be. It’s easier to just avoid the situation and pretend like nothing’s wrong.

But, God doesn’t want us to do that. He wants us to exhibit the same grace and forgiveness that Jesus did. He wants us to ask for it and to extend it. He wants us to be our true and authentic selves as we live in community together. He wants us to live like we actually have Him in our hearts and let go of our “control.

There is also a misconception of what happens after forgiveness. Some people believe you have to let someone back in your life after you forgive them and since that might  not be a good idea, it brings up another reason to hesitate on the forgiveness front. No, God doesn’t want us to put ourselves in situations that are dangerous to us whether it be physical or something else. Forgiveness is more for us than for the other person in these situations. Actually, I believe it’s more for us in any situation. It’s bringing the peace of Jesus back into your life and releasing the hold Satan has on your heart and mind. It takes away anger and resentment and brings back the love that Jesus wants us to have for others.

We all have people we need to forgive, me included. I need to tell them I am sorry for avoiding the conflict between us and forgive them for things that have happened in the past. This is the part that’s really hard for me especially since I have never handled conflict well. I was taught from an early age to bury bad feelings and told I was too sensitive when I had them. This has carried into adulthood, and I have had a hard time giving myself permission to have bad feelings. Conflict has always been something to be avoided at all costs.

I would like to say I’ve gotten better at this in recent years, but I can only say I’ve worked on it. It has taken every ounce of courage I’ve had to address instances of conflict in my life, and for the most part, it hasn’t gone well. I would venture to say that other people also have problems with addressing conflict and asking for forgiveness. 🙂

But, I’ll keep trying, and the reason I’ll keep trying is my answer to the final question of this prompt. “When have you received the incredible gift of forgiveness?” I received it when Jesus, my Lord and Savior died on the cross for me. I didn’t deserve it and never will deserve it, but Jesus’ death and resurrection provided a way for me to be with God eternally. As it says in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Because God gave me this gift of forgiveness, I need to turn around and give it to others like He has asked me to. May we all be willing to forgive!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

How Jesus Really Sees Us

I’m taking a break from the prompts today to explore this topic because, sometimes, I don’t think we, as believers, truly understand this. I know I don’t.

What do you do when you get up in the morning? Do you take a shower? Wash your hair? Ladies, do you put on make-up? Guys, do you shave? Do you make sure your clothes and hair look the best they can look before you walk out the door? If you do that, you are presenting your best face to the world. Who am I kidding? We all do that. We want the people in our world to see us in the best possible light.

It’s not in how we physically appear either. When we are around other people, we want the best parts of our character to be present so they will love us. We want to do good deeds, have good attitudes, and be seen praising God even if we don’t want to. In other words, we put our best front forward.

As all of us know though, our best front doesn’t stay good all of the time. We get mad. We’re sad about something. We’re difficult to get along with. We’re unreasonable. We’re demanding. It’s all a part of sin nature. And that doesn’t even count the deepest things we hide at the bottom of our souls. Things that don’t come out at all, ever, even on the pain of death. That’s what sin nature is.

Jesus knows everything though. What, you didn’t think He knew? 🙂 Yes, He knows everything, and He still loves you. He died on a cross for you.

Sometimes, though, I need words and imagery to come from another place. And, in this instance, how Jesus really sees me comes from the words of a song. One of my favorite songs, as a matter of fact. If you’ve ever been married or you have participated in a wedding, you’ll understand this. Everyone looks their best on their wedding day. It’s a moment of significance that, hopefully, will last for a lifetime. But, our sin nature still exists underneath all the finery. Jesus knows all the things we’ve done wrong and will do wrong. We should look like dirt to Him, but we don’t. That’s why I love the song “Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns. Even though the words fit a bride more than they do a groom, I believe all of us can take something away from this song. Jesus loves each and every one of us, and we appear perfect to Him though we are not because our sins are covered by the cross. I’m going to quote the verses of this song so you can see what I mean. May we all understand how Jesus really sees us today!

“Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns

There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds it’s breath
Waiting now to see the bride groom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
With this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that he sees
And she wears white, head to toe
But only he could make it so

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says you’re beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

She has danced in golden castles
And she has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before him
And she wears his righteousness
And she will be who he adores
And this is what he made her for

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

When the hand that bears the only scars
And heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as he takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day”

I am so glad my Lord and Savior sees me with the cover of the cross. May God bless you all today!

Justice and Grace

It’s Day 2 of my month of practicing in public, and I decided to tackle one of the more challenging prompts from bibleconnectionnews.com. Yes, I have finally gotten the name of the website where I got these prompts from correct. 🙂

First, here is the prompt. “Just as the Israelites did in Ezekiel’s day, people today sometimes say God isn’t or life isn’t fair. They ask how God could send people to hell – especially those who try to do good. The truth is that everyone has sinned, and all deserve punishment. It is only through God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrificial death that people can ask for forgiveness and be saved. How do you define justice? How do you define grace?”

Those are tough questions. Before I try to define them, let’s see how the dictionary defines them. First, justice. “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” Another definition would be “rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason.”

Now, grace. “favor or goodwill.” “mercy; clemency; pardon.” And my favorite, “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.”

There were more definitions of each, but I picked the ones that were most relevant to what I wanted to talk about. When I saw the word equitableness in the definition of justice, I thought of what justice is supposed to be–equal. No matter what crime has been committed, there should be an equal punishment for the crime. It shouldn’t matter who you are, how much money you have, or whether you know someone of influence. The punishment should be equal for everyone. But, we all know it isn’t. We’ve heard stories of people who’ve stayed in prison for years for a particular crime and stories of other people who have walked out of court on probation for the same crime. Some of you might have even been affected by unequal justice yourselves. I don’t know if there is a way to solve this problem, but we should keep trying.

I think part of the solution might lie in grace. There are words in the definitions of grace that we are all familiar with–favor, goodwill, mercy, clemency. Words that we like when they’re extended our way, but words that we have a hard time extending to others. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for a crime because God does call for consequences. I’m just saying we should be more willing to extend grace and more willing to call for equal justice where the situation merits it.

We could go on and on about solving the problems of justice and grace here, but my point is to define them. Justice and grace are imperfect in this world and will always be imperfect (though we can do our best to make it better). This is because our world is and will continue to be imperfect until Jesus comes.

So, my definitions of justice and grace come through God. All of us are sinners and deserve God’s justice. He should have destroyed us long ago because of our sins. But, He didn’t. As it says in the prompt, “it is only through God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrificial death that people can ask for forgiveness and be saved.” Those are my definitions of justice and grace. God’s justice that I deserve covered by God’s grace that I don’t deserve. Thank you, God!

God’s blessings on all of you today!