Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Faith and Feelings

It’s pretty cool to read and drive at the same time; even better enjoying the scenery around you while you enter another world. That’s what I did on my recent trip to California. I read a couple audio books and it was marvelous. I made it through two, despite some shocking language and interesting theology. I kept listening because I heard in both memoirs the aching need to find God and be at peace with who they were. And I desperately wanted to see them get there.

A common thread in both books, and one that seems to keep popping up since I’ve returned, is our tendency to put faith in feelings. I’ve learned, and keep learning, that emotions come and go. They’re affected by many things. Scrooge didn’t immediately believe the ghost before him was his friend Marley in A Christmas Carol because, as he said, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

Our feelings change according to what we’ve eaten, the amount of rest and exercise we’ve had, our insecurities, our life experiences, and what we’ve been plugging in to our brains. So if we base our relationship with God on how we feel, we’re going to be all over the place.

One scene in Father Joe pointed this out beautifully. The author came to know the Lord as a young man and had spent every moment since preparing to enter the monastery. He read theological works voraciously, delighted in Gregorian chant, and recited scripture and prayers with enthusiasm. Then just as suddenly as his joy in Christ had come, it left him during his evening prayers as if sucked out of him like a vacuum.

He struggled and prayed far into the night and when he woke, he was kneeling by his bed in a crumpled heap. After school he took the train to his beloved mentor, plagued by doubts and arguments disproving the faith he had held so dear. Father Joe welcomed him with love and warmth, and listened as he poured out his deepest fears.

He comforted the boy and sent him off for some much needed sleep. In the morning, they were able to talk rationally about the difference between faith and feelings.

“You fell in love with God, you see, and now the romantic part is over. It happens to us all, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll never have that feeling of light and certainty again?”

“Someday you’ll experience a much greater light and certainty than just feelings.”

“Feelings are not good?”

“Feelings are a great gift, but they’re treacherous if that’s what we live for. They drive us back into our selves, you see. What I want. What I feel. What I need.”*

This Father, who had become like his own father, took time to explain how our relationship with God is like a marriage. When we first fall in love we’re high on emotion; that energy drives and motivates us. But after a while, that high fades and we have to move from emotion to something much better. Whether we feel like it or not—when we’re sick, when money is tight, when we disagree on how to discipline the kids, and life gets choppy—commitment is what makes love last. Then the feelings swell once again, only deeper. Faith is like that.  

Maybe you’re at this point in your relationship with Christ, or in your recovery, or marriage, or job. Emotions can’t be trusted to carry us the distance. They come and they go—including how we feel about ourselves.

Trust in the timeless Word of God to find out who He is, who you are, and how to keep from blowing apart in this world of cultural fads and shifting philosophies. Pour out your doubts and fears to God like this young boy did, and let Him, your Father God, calm the storm within you and set you back on course.

*from Father Joe by Tony Hendra (read with caution; lots of language)

#don’ttrustemotions #factbasedfaith #ourFatherlistens #runtoGodwithdoubts #whenemotionsrunfaith

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Grieving With Hope

Another shocking death rocked our community last Friday—a recent high school graduate. It seems like there have been an unusual number of fatal accidents and terminal diagnoses the last few months. They’ve affected both young and old. Death jolts us with finality; grief hangs over us like a cloud. 

No matter how old, we’re never ready for our loved ones to die. Even though we know it’s inevitable, death still surprises us. We wish we could have just one more day with them. We cry, we question, we rage, and, when we let ourselves, we work through the grieving process. Yet some people live with hope.

Our bodies are destined to die, but our souls live forever. For those who follow Christ in this life, there is the hope of eternity in heaven with Him. We still miss our loved ones, but we know it will only be a little while until we can see them, never to be parted again. 

Paul wrote this to the believers in Thessalonica:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

What does all this mean? Here’s a bite by bite:

Death is not a permanent state. For the Christian, it’s a passageway to eternity with God. That’s why when a believer dies, no matter how sudden or tragic or young, other believers are confident they will see them again. 

Christians base their hope on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We are looking forward to the Rapture—when Jesus comes back to earth to gather His children and take us home. 

When He comes, He’s going to bring everyone who died as Christians with Him. What a reunion that will be!

This is encouraging news, even though we miss those who’ve died. We still ache to hold them; the bed still feels empty; we miss their laughter; and the holidays are never the same, but we have hope.

What about unbelievers? Not everyone who dies goes to heaven to be with Jesus. The Bible is very clear. God does not send people to hell; they choose it themselves when they turn away from Him. God will not force anyone to spend eternity with Him in heaven, who does not want to know Him while on earth. He gives us the freedom to choose. 

For the unbeliever, death is the entrance to eternity without God. Now is the time to decide—glorious hope, or uncertainty and despair? 

My dear friend, if you don’t know Jesus, I encourage you to check out His story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the Bible and decide for yourself. 

Was He who He claimed to be? 

Did the prophecies about Him throughout the Old Testament come true? 

Could a mere man predict specifics about his birth, death, and resurrection and make them all come true? 

Do you want to be free from sin and guilt?

You can be. Ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. And learn what it means to hope even when you’re grieving.

#lifeafterdeath #grieving #whenJesuscomes #Rapture  #1Thess4:13-18

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What My Father Taught Me

One of my favorite commercials shows a boy riding in back seat of the car with his dad. The boy’s looking out the window while he’s on a work call, until his dad says, “No, I’m sorry, I just can’t do that. I may lose the account, but it wouldn’t be honest and I can’t do business that way.” The son listens. A lesson has been taught.

The next scene shows the son at school. There’s a pop quiz in class and he’s not ready. Another boy offers to let him copy his answers. He thinks about it, then replies, “No I just can’t do that. I probably won’t do very well, but it wouldn’t be honest.”

Dads are teaching, even when they don’t realize it. I’m thankful for all you dads out there who actively, purposefully teach your children right and wrong, and even more, for you who live it out day by day. I applaud your diligence and integrity.

My dad did both and I’m grateful for his influence in my life. Here are a few things I’ve learned from him:

How to laugh
My dad has a great sense of humor, but he doesn’t laugh at the expense of others. He laughs at himself, and the funny and ridiculous turns of life. I love to hear his laughter.

The joy of music
Music was Dad’s work, but it’s also his delight. There was always music in our home—from the stereo, or someone practicing piano, flute, saxophone, clarinet, or voice. He and Mom played piano and trombone for years, then tried their hands at piano duets. They sang in the choir and we sang as a family. Our two “Halleluia” rounds are my all time favorites, but so are the silly songs we sang on camping and road trips, “Bill Grogan’s Goat; I’ve a Pair of Fishes; Tumba, Tumba; and Senor Don Gato Was a Cat.

How to take care of your body
Dad has always worked out. When I was a child he would change out of his suit and tie into a white t-shirt and sweats to do his military calisthenics after work. He loved hiking and playing tennis. He’s still going to the gym and playing tennis several times a week in his 80’s. And even though we all share a great love for food, Dad eats a healthy diet to keep his weight down.

That humility is strength
My dad is human and he has made mistakes. But I think I’ve admired him most when he humbled himself to apologize for a wrong or overly harsh response. He willingly asks for advice and learns from others.

The value of work
Work is a positive thing in my family. Mom and Dad praised our efforts, even when they were less than perfect, and they encouraged us girls to get jobs as soon as we were old enough.Working and practicing good stewardship taught us how to handle money, and we took pride in doing our best even when no one was watching.

How to balance work and family
But it wasn’t all work. Some Saturdays we took off for the beach or a hike. We traveled, played games together, and watched movies. When we were together Dad was fully present in our conversations and set work aside to be with us.

The importance of putting God first
My dad says he’s not much of a reader, but he’s been studying God’s Word as long as I remember. A born teacher, he likes to discuss whatever he and Mom are teaching in Sunday school. Dad doesn’t attend church, read the Bible, or do the right thing just when he feels like it, but because he’s committed to living every moment for Jesus.

About spiritual leadership
Mom and Dad led us in family devotions—not every day and it was not always fun. But now that we’re adults, my sisters and I all love talking with them about God whenever we’re together. Dad was the spiritual leader of our home, not because he demanded it, but because he accepted his God-given role and rose to the challenge.

I’m so thankful for my Dad and all he’s taught me. I could say much more, but I want to give you the chance to share what your fathers have taught you. Click on the Comment button and share a favorite memory, or what your dad is currently teaching you. And be sure to share with your dad how thankful you are for his words and example.

Happy Father’s Day!

#Father’sDay #teachingbyexample #actionsspeaklouderthanwords #bettercaughtthantaught #godlydads #loveyoudad

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What Does That Mean?

Most of the Bible, especially the New Testament, is pretty straight forward. I love the narratives of people’s lives throughout the Old and New Testament. I learn from both their good and bad examples. But sometimes it seems like the authors of the Bible disguise their message in mystic symbolism instead of saying what they mean.
Western readers miss a lot, especially in the books of wisdom, poetry, and prophesy, because we think differently than those in the eastern culture. Living centuries later makes a difference too. It’s all still relevant, we just don’t have the same customs, clich├ęs, or live the same way they did at the time it was written. The more we learn about the original audience, the easier it is to understand the Bible. But we don’t have to do this alone.

This is where the Church comes in. When we get together with other believers and grapple with a passage or concept, it suddenly comes alive. Those who’ve read and studied can share their insights, others’ personal experiences can shed light on the topic. Both those who’ve read the Bible all their lives and brand new believers still finding their way around, have valuable input and questions—we’re better together.

That’s what happened in our small group Sunday morning. In the middle of our study on Revelation, we paused to discuss Psalm 131:2, “I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.” What does that mean anyway?

 “How does a weaned child behave differently with its mother than a nursing baby?” There were so many different answers!

“They’re more defiant?” 

“They learn the word, ‘No.’” We all laughed.

But that didn’t fit the tone of the psalm, because David was describing a positive action on his part. This verse stumped me for years. My commentaries didn’t say much about it, but after I nursed two babies, I saw the difference in our relationship after they were weaned.

Babies howl at all times of the day and night. Every hunger pang, wet diaper, emerging tooth—any discomfort—is the end of the world and needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW. But months of nursing nurture an intimate bond between mother and child. As they mature and begin to eat solid food, children become more independent, but still look to Mom (and Dad) to meet their needs.

The more they see how faithfully she cares for them, the more they love and trust her. A weaned child still looks to Mom for sustenance, but understands she will provide what’s necessary when the time is right. 

A weaned child comes to Mom just to be near her, even when there’s no particular need. Because of love. She’s the one who comforts when their out of sorts and don’t know what to do; she’s the one who wipes their tears and snuggles them when they skin their knee. With Mom, they laugh, explore, and express wonder.

Someone else shared a very important insight. Weaned children choose intimacy. The more independent they become, the less they need to rely on Mom. They can choose whether they eat the plate of healthy food she provides, or snack on dirt in the yard, crumbs off the floor, or hold out for junk food when it’s available. They can go to Mom when there’s a need, or hide their hurt and questions inside. They can trust Mom’s instruction, or believe their friend’s five-year-old wisdom instead. 

Which child are you? Do you howl for God to fix your problems and expect Him to do it RIGHT NOW? Are you still drinking milk? Or have you learned to trust Him and wait for His timing because you’ve experienced His love and faithfulness? Are you eating the meat of the Word? Do you come to Him, not just when you need something, but to snuggle and laugh, marvel at His creation, learn from Him, and tell Him how much you love Him?

I know which child I want to be. It’s not easy to grow up, but what a beautiful picture of the kind of relationship we can have with God—if we will still and quiet our soul.

#poetryanalysis #analyzingscripture #donenursing #motherchildbond #psalm131:2 #intimacywithGod