Sunday, May 23, 2010

Great Questions to Ask Yourself from Vince Antonucci’s, I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt

Normally, all the material on my blog is my own writing. But I just finished reading Vince Antonucci's book, and these questions really made me stop and think. So here goes:

Great Questions to Ask Yourself from Vince Antonucci’s, I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt: Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spiritual Passion, p. 190-191

Is it possible that there’s something about the Jesus life you’re missing?

• If I feel most alive when I’m watching a movie or playing a video game or reading a book or watching sports, if those are consistently the best parts of my day, what does that say about my life? Shouldn’t it be more exciting to live my life than to watch someone else live theirs?

• In the Bible Jesus led his followers into dangerous places. Do I often find myself in dangerous places? And if not, what does that mean?

• Despite being completely righteous, Jesus attracted the worst of sinners. Are sinful people drawn to me, or are they put off by my so-called righteousness?

• When Jesus came into contact with people, their lives were radically transformed. Are people’s lives changed by knowing me?

• Do I have sinful habits I can’t seem to shake? Why?

• What do I dream about? What does my mind automatically turn to? What should it?

• Would the people who know me best say my life is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control?

• Do I read the Bible and pray because I can’t wait to spend time with God or because it’s what I’m supposed to do as a Christian?

• And why do I skip my Bible and prayer time on weekends or when I’m out of town? Is that time really just a habit, a part of my routine, or is it the sacred conversation it’s supposed to be?

• Am I living in a safe Christian bubble? If so, why does the world scare me?

• What do I use to escape from my problems? Why do I need to escape from my problems at all? Shouldn’t Jesus help me handle them?

• Do I serve because I get to or because I have to?

• Do I get upset about things in a way that is disproportionate to their importance?

• What are the top items on my current wish list?

• The word Christian literally means “little Christ” – so am I a Christian or do I just call myself one?

• Why isn’t Jesus enough for me?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No Looking Back: After Divorce

For months my second husband and I looked forward to a trip to Disneyland with our five adult children. We wanted an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and make some new memories as a blended family. We expected some awkwardness and vying for position. What I didn’t expect, however, was to be haunted by flashbacks of my first husband and the trip we had taken our children on years ago. The question nagged me, What happened to that happy family?

This took me by surprise. The gnawing sadness made it difficult to fully enjoy the purpose of the trip, the bonding of our new family. I ran to God and He helped me focus and participate in the present moment. When we got home, the Lord used the story of Lot and his wife to continue His healing in my life – away from the past and on to the future.

God sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom before destroying it with fire. As they were leaving, the angel warned them not to look back. Lot’s wife couldn’t resist one last glance and immediately turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19).

Why would she do that after such a stern warning? Then again, why would I? Looking back for whatever reason can keep us bogged down in the past and saps energy from our current relationships. And yet, so many of us struggle with the temptation to look back. I discovered five possible motives for a backwards focus in the story of Lot’s wife:

• We’re reluctant to leave people behind
• We refuse to leave our stuff behind
• We want to satisfy our curiosity
• We doubt God’s rescue
• We want revenge

Reluctance to Leave People Behind
It could be that Lot’s wife – I’ll call her Lottie – didn’t want to leave the people she cared about behind. Her daughters’ fianc├ęs had refused to join their escape. How can I let them be incinerated with the rest of the city? What will happen to my daughters now? Have any of our neighbors and friends decided to escape with us?

In the same way, I did not want to leave my husband of almost twenty-one years behind. I was devastated when he said he no longer loved me and held onto the hope that he would come back. Even after the divorce, I dreamed God would make our family whole again.

I had been so distracted by this backward glancing that it was destroying me. A dear friend of mine finally took me by the shoulders and said, “Beth, you’ve got to let him go.” Releasing my love for him seemed like a lack of faith. But my health and emotions were visibly crumbling. God was able to begin healing my heart when I finally accepted the fact that my husband had chosen to leave and that God would take care of me (Isaiah 54:4-6).

Refusal to Leave Stuff Behind
Lottie might not have wanted to leave Sodom because of her stuff. The Bible says Lot was an influential man in the city. He had already been wealthy when he and Abraham parted company years before. Lottie might have recently redecorated her kitchen, or they might have just bought a new house on Snob Hill. What would they have if they left Sodom anyway? Only what they could carry at a run. Was Lottie worried about comfort and security when she took that fateful glance?

A couple accumulates a lot of stuff in twenty years. It was a grisly ordeal in the divorce to list it all, appraise its worth, and parcel it out – one for him, one for her. I couldn’t bear to take down the family portrait until a month after it was all over. I ached at the sight of our once happy family hanging there, but the thought of an empty wall hurt even more. Finally, my girls and I took pictures of each other and filled the wall with new family portraits. And God reminded me that true treasure is not in stuff, but in my relationship with Him and in cherishing all those He puts in my sphere.

Needing to Satisfy Curiosity
Curiosity could have been what ultimately killed Lottie. Did she look back because she wanted to see if the people of Sodom were going to get what was coming to them? Or what burning sulfur looks like?

How many secondary accidents happen because drivers slow to gawk at another wreck? How many people crash spiritually while scrutinizing others? I was distracted by my own curiosity as well. What’s going to happen to him, Lord? I was faithful to my vows. Is this all the reward I get? The more I asked, the more my spirit dragged. It wasn’t until I focused on my own desperate need for God’s grace and forgiveness that I could lay that curiosity aside.

Doubting God’s Rescue
The fourth reason Lottie might have looked back is because she doubted God’s plan. We don’t know her true name, but she left behind a legacy of doubt.Will God really destroy everything in Sodom? How will we survive in the mountains? Lot even pleaded with the angel to let them go to Zoar instead of the mountains for safety. It seems they were both reluctant to trust their rescuers.

I struggled with doubt as well. I hated having to tell people that my first marriage ended in divorce. For a long time I felt like I had a black ‘D’ seared into my forehead; that I was irreparably damaged. I thought no one would want me. Although God was leading me out of despair, I doubted I would ever get over the pain. But now I see how my broken heart has helped me rely more on God, enlarged my compassion for others, and better equipped me to testify to His faithfulness.

Wanting Revenge
There’s one final option why Lottie might have looked back at Sodom. Revenge. When the angels entered her home, the men of Sodom surrounded the house and demanded to have sex with them. Lot offered his virgin daughters for them to abuse instead (Genesis 19:4-11). How could a mother live in this kind of environment? She might have looked back at Sodom to revel in watching the city burn.

It’s tough to admit, but even while praying to forgive my husband, I had thoughts of revenge. I did not dig my key into the side of his sports car or slash his tires. I tried not to say negative things about him, and remained civil when talking to him and his new wife. But in my dreams…I told him what I really thought, I beat the tar out of his cute little wench, and I became the sexy divorcee that everyone said he was an idiot to leave.

When I suffered physically, I wanted him to suffer physically. When I had financial troubles, I wanted him to have them too. When I felt lonely and worthless, I wanted him to know how it felt to be betrayed and abandoned. God reminded me that it is not my business to get revenge. My job is to trust Him and do the right thing. Day by day it got a little easier.

I am no longer looking back at the shadows of what could or should have been. Lottie’s story revealed the dangers to me in a whole new way. Now I am focusing on my relationship with the wonderful man God has brought into my life and our future together. God’s grace enables me to walk with joy, confidence, and incredible gratitude for what He has done for me.

All of us have a Sodom we need to leave behind - a crushed dream, a lost relationship, a hurt filled childhood, a life of sin. Lottie turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back. It’s not worth the consequences. When the enemy haunts you with shadows from your past, cry to God for help. He will rescue you and lead you on to a new and better place.

(c) Beth Vice, May 2010