Your Faith at a Crossroads

So we have been greatly encouraged … because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. (I Thess 3:7-8)

Every Christian, at some point, will come to an intersection in life and will have to decide if she will continue to love Jesus or if she will withdraw her heart and finish this journey alone.

Something happens which is incredibly painful and she has to decide what she will do about God.

The most well-known tragic case is that of Job.  He loses so much, and then even his wife exclaims, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die”  (Job 2:9). His life was so terrible, the one closest to him threw up her hands in despair and advised him to give up and die.  That seemed like the only recourse, the only honest way out.

Every Christian is presented with this option at some point.  It may not be so stark, but every Christian goes through something hard and one option presented, either by a person, or by the Enemy himself is, “Give up on God; He’s failed you.  Go on without Him.”

The Bible acknowledges this: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous…”  And then there is the promise: “BUT the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Ps. 34:10.

So, you’ve been traveling blithely along and then, disappointment.  Perhaps even though you’ve prayed for years, you just turned 30 or 40 or 50 and you’re still not married.  Perhaps even though you’ve had friends interceding for that loved one, he died anyway and now you have to pick up the pieces.  Perhaps you just lost your dream job or you have not yet found your dream job.  Maybe you are experiencing the heart piercing pain of betrayal and you feel like bitterness is about to consume your soul.

You have three options.  You can go straight ahead, hanging onto Jesus for dear life, clinging to him, refusing to let go.  You can say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”  (Job 13:15).  You worship God anyway, through the pain and tears, as David did when his son died (2 Sam 12:20).  You sob, rage, and howl, but at the end of the day, you realize there’s nowhere else to go; He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).  Your heart is hidden with God in Christ.  You choose to love him anyway, worship Him anyway, trust him anyway.

If you choose this road, God will see you through the pain and will douse you with an anointing that will yield fruit in your life and in the lives of many.  Your life will be scarred but rich, and as he did for Job, God will yet deliver you and bless you.

Or, you can turn left.  The road to the left is the road without God.  You trusted Him and He failed you and you’d rather finish this life on your own terms.  You turn your back on Him and let the bitterness take root in your soul.  You choose methods of coping that don’t include God.  For a season, this may seem to work, but the end result is a life without your Creator; this can appear good for a season, but in the end, your life is barren and your destiny unfulfilled.

Or you can turn right.  The right turn leads to a life with God, but your heart is ever guarded.  Instead of throwing yourself into His arms, you hold yourself back and give him only a portion.  You choose a more staid faith, a less radical church, a more safe theology a more sterile Christianity.  You are still heaven-bound, but you make more rational decisions; all traces of zeal are gone, and where you used to worship God with abandon, now there are limits, a line which you will not cross.

It’s like you’re in a luke-warm marriage: you don’t divorce, but you’re not transparent, vulnerable or passionate any more.  You co-exist in civility, but you are no longer in love.

The people we most admire, whether they are great preachers or the friend next door, are those who took the first path, those who set their face like flint and pushed through the valley of the shadow of death.  Those who held onto their faith like tenacious bulldogs and would rather die than face life without God.  Those people are deep, real, strong and wise.  They have found contentment, despite life’s afflictions and we feel honored when they spend time with us.  We want to be like them, but we don’t necessarily want to go through what they went through to be so refined.  I’ve known a few such saints and I am a better person because of them.

I cannot say I have ever gone through something deeply tragic; I hope I never do.  But there have been several times in life when I struggled to keep going and I considered throwing in the towel of my faith.  But the Holy Spirit did for me what He did for Peter: he confronted me with the reality that I had nowhere else to go.  I was ruined.  There was no way I could go on without God.  It was life with him, or no life at all.  So I just pleaded, “Fix me, Jesus, fix me.”  And God did, indeed, fix me; He saw me through that valley and brought me to the mountaintop.  The Lord is a deliverer; he delivered me from pain and disappointment, and He wants to do the same for you.

It’s Not Just About You

I’ll never forget the wise words of a dear friend during the aftermath of a bad dating relationship.  She said, “You know, Nicole, it’s not just about you.  It’s about the children you will have.”  She was telling me that this guy was not only the wrong guy for me, but he would be the wrong guy to father my children.  When God thinks about marriage, he thinks about generations, not just your marital bliss.

I have actually thought of this many times since our first son was born.  When we were engaged, God told Marvin and me that he was going to start a new line – a new generation that would follow hard after God.  We have thanked God for this many times as we pray for our sons: a new line; a healthy, strong line, by the grace of God.  And Marvin is a great dad.  He invests time, money and energy in his sons, seeks to protect their hearts and beseeches the Lord for them.  God made me wait for the right man for me, AND the right father of my children.  Marriage is not just about romance, companionship, and doing life together.  It is also about all the people that your marriage will affect and influence, starting with your offspring.

When the Jews mourn the holocaust, it’s not just about the lives which were immediately lost; it is also about the progeny which will never be born: the family lines that were cut off; the descendants that were stolen – forever.    The tragedy was generational.

And in Scripture, God speaks many times of the blessings or curses on generations.  Your actions, bad or good, will affect you and your family line, indefinitely.  After Cain killed his brother, God cursed him, and then no one in his lineage is ever mentioned as being a follower of God or pleasing to God.  Cain’s choice to murder forever altered his life AND the lives of his children and children’s children.

But let’s not limit this discussion to marriage and children.  The job you are in is not just about you.  Yes, God wants to provide for your needs; He wants you to enjoy some of the fruit of your labor, but he also planted you in that office because those co-workers may need your words of encouragement, your advice, your comfort during a hard time.  He gave you that perfect house in that perfect neighborhood, not just for you and your kids, but also so that you can be a light to your neighbors, a smiling face, a Godly influence, a source of strength.

As Americans, one of our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses is our individualism.  It is both uniquely good and uniquely terrible.  We believe in the potential, the power and the value of the individual.  That is a good thing.  But we are also extremely self-focused.  As a culture, we give very little thought to generations and community, and so, as a nation, we labor under grave loneliness and selfishness.  We are among the most stressed out people in the world, because we are tying to do life alone, by our own strength, grit and determination.

As Christians, God is calling us to live in a counter-culture.  We also believe in the value and power of the individual.  Jesus died for each one of us, and each one of us is made in the image of God.  But we are also called to live in community, to care for others and to think beyond the four walls of our homes.   Even if you are newly married in your 20’s, God wants you to think of your grandchildren, and work to leave an inheritance for them.  Your money is not just for you.

If you are single and want to be married, you should be thinking not only of the right man for you, but also, the right man to lead the generations that will spring from your union.  If you’re thinking of a job move, ask the Lord not just for the right job for you, but the job where you will be the most useful for His purposes.  Whatever season of life you are in, be assured that God not only has your good in mind, but also the good of those around you.  Keep that in mind as you pray and make choices and decisions.

Motherhood is Complicated

If someone depicted in a painting the emotions the average mother experiences in a typical day, the painting would be disturbing.

When I went to register my oldest son for kindergarten I felt elated and horrified at the same time.  Within five minutes I dreamed of all that Isaac would learn, the friends he would make, the experience and maturity he would gain.  And then I planned all I would do with one child in school all day.  I wouldn’t have to think up ways for him to expend some of that boundless energy, but rather, he’d come home tired, hopefully happy, and ready for some snuggle time with mommy. I would spend more one-on-one time with my youngest and even indulge in some me-time if we hired a sitter sometimes.  One child seemed like a breeze compared to two.

But then, within seconds of those blissful thoughts, I remembered Columbine, pedophiles, school bullies and mean teachers.  And what about that astounding smile that I wouldn’t get to see for six hours a day?  Someone else will see that ray of sunshine, hear those sensitive thoughts and admire that gorgeous face.  Then there’s lunch-time and gym-time and will-you-be-my-friend?-time.  By the time I got home, I was choking back tears, and no, I wasn’t hormonal.

And then there’s the elation I felt when my youngest finally slept through the night.  We had done the hard thing and finally let him cry a little bit, and it worked.  Yet, I woke up every two hours, wondering if he were ok, holding myself back from checking  him (That door creaks and would surely wake him up and ruin everything!).

There was the relief when Isaac finally put his shoes on by himself and the incredible frustration that it generally takes him three times longer than if I did it for him.  The delight that he and his brother love each other and like playing together, and the pounding headache that comes when the squeals and squabbles erupt.

The relief that it’s finally naptime for at least one, and the painful disappointment when it ends only an hour later, but then the breathtaking love that overwhelms when I see him standing in the crib, arms up, waiting for his deliverance from solitude.   And that delicious, cuddly sleepiness of those post-nap moments.

And we moms wonder why we’re exhausted at the end of each day!  Our bodies and hearts weather so many conflicting emotions so many times a day, it’s a wonder we don’t implode by dinnertime.

I didn’t even mention the pride we feel when our husbands are asked to speak at a conference and the dread that obfuscates that pride as we realize it means time away from home and no relief for us at the end of the day.

I’ve come to understand that this never ends.  I have heard from reliable sources that sending children off to college is both exciting and excruciating.   That meeting “The Girl” is at once thrilling (“The daughter I never had!  The wedding to plan!”) and heartbreaking (“I am replaced: no longer First Lady.”)

Weaning is both liberating and sad.

And you know, as wonderful as my husband is, there are times when he just doesn’t get it.  Not that he doesn’t have emotions towards our kids.  He also is sometimes sad, mad or glad.  But it’s not as intense, not as simultaneous.  And he is sometimes at a loss.

But God is never at a loss.  He created these crazy things called maternal emotions; indeed, they are a part of who He is.  So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen 1:27).  He knows how to comfort and reassure.  He is always interested and He always has the answer.

Sharpening the Ax

A few weeks ago, our pastor taught on the dangers of becoming spiritually dull.  As a church, we were about to embark on a 21 day fast, and he was encouraging us that fasting is one of the best ways to sharpen our spiritual lives once again.

He used the analogy of a husband and wife who have grown distant and have nothing to say to each other.  They still love each other but they no longer experience the passionate emotions and lively conversations they once had.

It was one of those times the Holy Spirit whispered, or rather shouted, in my ears: listen to this, take it to heart.  This is you.  I felt that dullness spiritually, and I even alittle in my marriage.  I definitely still loved the Lord and I certainly still loved my husband, but the realities of two small children had overtaken me.  I always felt sleep-deprived and so I tended to take naps when I could rather than having quiet times, and going out on date nights lost its luster compared to going to sleep!  I had fallen into the trap of speaking to God only in desperation and conversing with Marvin mostly about the kids.

But God is so wonderful; He never leads us to a place of conviction and then fails to provide the solution.  He shows us where we’re wrong and then gives us clear steps to make it right.  And He did just that for me.  By the end of the service, I had a clear plan to restore luster both to my relationship with Him and to my relationship with my husband.

God showed me what and when to fast (which I confess was not the full 21 days) and when to have regular quiet times.  And He gave both me and Marvin a plan to restore regular date nights.

Now, here’s the amazing thing about God.  When we give him our five loaves and two fish, He always multiplies them!  I was faithful to fast and begin to read my Bible and a spiritual book for a few minutes on most days.  And I began spending time with Him and talking to Him about things other than sleep.  Marvin and I started talking more during the day and had a wonderful date night (and we’re looking forward to another one this week!).  And in both cases, I felt the Holy Spirit blow on the embers in my heart and a flame billow up, bright and warm.  I am encouraged about both relationships and feel like my heart is soft once again.

The cares of the world will choke the seed, the seed of love, the seed of passion, and we have to be proactive at weeding.  If we don’t, before we know it, our hearts will be barren and it will take a lot more work plowing up fallow ground.

With some of you, it may not be kids, but rather a demanding job, or ministry obligations, an aging parent or friend in crisis.  There are a plethora of things that can consume our time and energy and push aside time with God, and if we’re married, time with our spouse.  And God is not demanding hours a day to make it right.  He just wants what’s in your hand: that 15 minutes while a child is napping or watching TV.  That evening that you take a break from TV and spend time with Him or your husband.  Just give him your widow’s mite, your loaves and fish, and watch Him do what only He can do.

Mothers and Sons

I know most mothers passionately love their children, regardless of their gender, but because I have no girls, I can only speak about the love of a mother for her sons.

FIERCE is the adjective that comes to mind.  I felt it the first time a kid was mean to my first son.  We were in a playground when Isaac was about two, and a boy much older than he was pushed him down the slide.  Isaac was fine, but I almost ripped out the mean kid’s throat.  It didn’t help that the boy’s mother was sitting in the car, smoking, oblivious to his actions.  So I corrected the child, rather sternly, and he went to another slide to play.  He kept looking over his shoulder at me with horror in his eyes.  I think I scared him.  Don’t mess with my cubs!

I was scared too.  In a brief moment, I realized that I wouldn’t always be there; the day would come when Isaac would be on his own to fight his own battles.  In an instant of excruciating agony, I realized that I would have to put him in God’s hands to protect him or I would go mad.

And now I have two boys and this agonizing love has multiplied.

There are two horrible stories in the Bible that haunt me now.  In both, baby boys are slaughtered, and their mothers have to stand by helplessly watching.  Twice, wicked men kill male babies in desperate attempts to retain power:

First Pharaoh:

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” (Ex 1:22)

Then Herod:

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:  “A cry was heard in Ramah—/weeping and great mourning.  /Rachel weeps for her children,/ refusing to be comforted,/ for they are dead.” (Matt 2: 16-18)

How horrible.  I can’t imagine it.  I don’t want to imagine it.

And there’s another mother and son story in the Bible that stirs my heart like never before:  that of Mary and Jesus.  I imagine Mary holding this precious baby boy and hearing such profound prophesy about him, and then these awesome, but bitter words:

Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35)

How did it feel to raise the Messiah?  As special as Jesus was, though, I am sure Mary felt the same fierce love for him as mothers do for their sons today.  I am sure she beamed with pride at his accomplishments and feared the sword that would pierce her soul.

It is amazing to realize that these intense feelings of love we harbor are but a microcosm of the love God has for us.  His love is more fierce, more profound, more vast than mine for my sons.  My love is but a taste of His love: my pride, my joy, my ferocious care but a human, imperfect version of His.  And He is the author of both maternal and paternal love.

I love this song and it certainly is apropos this time of year.  The love of a mother for her son.  The love of God for us:

Mary Did You Know