Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crumbs of Faith

There’s this story in the Bible that for years I didn’t understand. It’s found in Matthew 15:21-28. It talks about this Canaanite woman who wanted Jesus’ attention. Her daughter had been suffering from demon-possession and she was desperate—who wouldn’t be? So she cries out for Jesus to have mercy on her. I am quite sure this was one of those cries that could be heard from a distance.

Despite that, Jesus doesn’t even respond. In verse 23 it says Jesus did not answer a word. So let’s stop right there and see if we can relate to this story. First you have this woman that has a great need in her life. I would have to say that the greatest needs a woman can experience are with her children. To have your own child suffering in any way is hard for any parent but forgive me men, I really do believe it hits mothers harder. This is her child…the one she carried and nurtured in her womb for months…she cannot bear to see her precious child suffering.

Of course, this could have been any desperate situation. You may be finding yourself in a desperate situation right now. It could be relationship-related, job-related, financial, and the list goes on. So she is desperate and she cries out for Jesus. I would bet just about all of us have been there—where we have cried out for the Lord to have mercy on a situation we were facing. We seek Him for answers, for help, for a resolution, or for His intervention.

But then we face silence. He doesn’t respond. We don’t hear His voice. I have to be honest even right now I am experiencing that with a particular situation in my life. I have an important decision to make about my youngest and I have to come up with the answer by Monday but no matter how much praying I have been doing, I have not heard from God.

Okay, so let’s go back to the story. This woman didn’t give up. Apparently she kept crying out for His help because eventually the disciples come to Him and say, “Hey look, this woman is driving us nuts! Would you do something about her already???!!” Well not really. You can read the story in your own Bible to get the right interpretation.

So anyway, Jesus responds to them with, “I was sent only to the lost sheep for Israel.” No sooner does he answer the disciples than here she comes and this time she kneels down before Him. She is just not ready to give up! She will chase him down and fall down before Him and get his attention! I like that kind of tenacity. She cries, “Lord, help me!”

Then He replies in what I always thought was the strangest reply and is what I never understood. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Her response has always been just as confusing to me. “…but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” I have read that story so many times through the years. I would always think, “Huh?”

I never really got it until recently. This is what I get from it (you might get something completely different). She was willing to accept crumbs of faith. She was willing to take the littlest morsel of faith that was available. She knew it didn’t take but a little faith and Jesus could do anything. She knew He could heal her daughter.

We are reminded in Matthew 17:20 that we may have little faith BUT…if we have faith as small as a mustard seed (those are very tiny), we can do just about anything. Sometimes we don’t have the giant faith that we would like to have. I don’t have complete confidence about the decision I have to make concerning my youngest. Yet I am willing to accept a morsel of faith, a crumb of faith and move in a direction that I believe in the end will prove nothing is impossible with God.

How does the story end for this woman? Jesus didn’t say, “What? You’re willing to take the crumbs? What kind of faith is that?” No, He said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And guess what? That very hour her daughter was healed!

What was once a confusing story is now an inspiring one. I, like the desperate woman, am willing to settle for crumbs of faith. I will take what I can get because the way I see it is,I would rather a tiny morsel of faith than none at all. What that shows Jesus is we actually have great faith.

Not everything that happens in life is “big.” Sometimes we are too easily wrapped up in wanting to be entertained, to be “wowed,” or a part of something fantastic. We are looking for the show, the outward sign of something incredible. But sometimes it just takes small, simple faith and we will see mountains move. Don’t dismiss the crumbs. Take the crumbs of faith and watch God do miracles.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Devil Masquerades in Marriage

Marriage is under attack. It used to be that marriages in the secular world had the highest divorce rate. In a Barna Research Group study it was found that divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups—specifically mentioned were atheists and agnostics.

There are a number of factors that play into this. But there is one specific possibility that I would like to throw out there. I think one of the reasons we end up reaching that place of divorce is because a root of discontentment is planted. We start seeing only the negative, the things we don’t like, or the things that we would like to see changed.

2 Corinthians 11:14 gives us an idea on how this works. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Think about that. What does masquerade mean? It is an action or appearance that is mere disguise or show. In other words, it isn’t real. Sometimes there is a masquerade that happens in our marriages. We put up this disguise that everything is fine. We are trying to sweep away the problems, hoping they will somehow just disappear. We look on the outside like we have it all together but what’s really going on is a lot of strife and contention.

When we ignore problems in the marriage we don’t stand a chance at fixing them. They are NOT going to go away. Sure they might take a step back for a time but they always come back and sometimes they come back uglier than before.

There are other masquerades that happen in marriage. Sometimes it’s what we are seeing in our spouse. We only see what is wrong with the other person. In fact, we begin to get so fixated on those things that pretty soon we are completely incapable of seeing the good. Masquerade also means mask. In this case we are seeing this mask on our spouse and it’s not a pretty one. We can’t see behind it. We only see the ugly mess on the outside. We have become discontent in our marriage.

My husband and I have been watching a marriage in our family completely fall apart. We know that the reasons for it aren’t real. Satan is doing a lot of masquerading. He is a schemer (Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes) and he is definitely looking for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour). He has been hard at work and it seems only one person in the marriage is seeing that.

I tried to share with my family member what God has done in my marriage to Dan. We weren’t raised Christian. We don’t know what that’s like to have a godly heritage. We didn’t start off on the best foot. We met at a beer tent at Summerfest! We went through a lot of hard times in our marriage and absolutely no one thought we would ever make it. We both thought we weren’t going to make it. But we did…18 ½ years later. I can look back and recall the times that I felt discontentment taking root. All I saw was what I didn’t like, what I didn’t bargain for, what I didn’t want. The devil was masquerading things. He wanted me to think something that wasn’t true. If I had believed him we would be divorced today.

If you are going through a difficult time in your marriage—and believe me, EVERYONE goes through it—hold on. Don’t let the devil trick you into believing things that aren’t true…that it won’t ever change, that you will never be happy, that you need to bail. I’m tired of hearing about broken marriages in Christian homes. It is very sad to sit by and watch it happen and be helpless to do anything about it. At the same time I do pray about it constantly and am standing on the belief that God will heal and restore it. Stand on the belief that God will heal and restore your marriage as well!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Distracted By the Little Things

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!" Matthew 14:22-33

I love this story because there are so many lessons that can be drawn from it. One of the lessons I see is how Peter allowed a small thing to stand in the way of conquering a much bigger thing.

The biggest obstacle that Peter was facing in this story was right underneath him. How many times have you walked on water? I would say that to be able to walk across water would be more than just an obstacle. It is impossible! Yet Peter did it. He WALKED on water. I think sometimes we read stories in the Bible and because we have read them so many times, we are quick to skim over them. We don’t stop and really think about the implications of what we have read. But take a moment to really let that sink in—Peter walked on water! This is no small feat! He has done the impossible.

At this point, one would think that Peter could do anything. His faith, his trust in God must be so strong that nothing could stand in the way! Wrong. Although he was conquering an incredible act he would then allow a smaller thing, the wind, to distract him. What is the wind compared to walking on water? Don’t you think that Peter’s reaction should have been, “Wind? What’s a little wind?” Yet instead he panicked. And in his panic, he lost sight of what he was doing and suddenly he began to sink.

What great thing are you conquering in your life? It feels pretty good to have those moments doesn’t it? But if we aren’t careful, we are sure to let something small to distract us. We get off course. We begin to sink. Think about the different areas of your life this could apply to. Think of your marriage…your relationship with your children…your dreams…your career…your ministry. Little things can catch our attention and suddenly our focus is off the great thing that God is doing within us.

We also need to have a proper perspective of what God is doing. God’s great thing might not be so obvious. Most times we are looking for the grand displays of greatness. Walking on water is definitely a display of greatness. The truth is, though, most of the time we will not experience such grand moments.

God can be doing something really great right now in your life but you are so focused on little things that you are failing to see what is right before you. Don’t let the wind or whatever it may be for you, keep you from walking out and doing the thing God has called you to do. Keep your eyes on Him and you can’t go wrong!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Do Some Self Reflection!

Do you spend any time doing self-reflection? I think it’s actually a healthy habit to get into. Before we get any further into this topic, though, I think we need to have a good understanding of what I am talking about. First, consider a couple of definitions for the word reflection: 1) a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation and 2) consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose. Self-reflection is taking time to consider oneself. As a believer, this is done with the help of prayer.

Now think about another definition of the word reflection: the production of an image by or as if by a mirror. When I think about self-reflection, I think about what image I am projecting. Now let’s take this a step further and consider the word image. When you think of the word image in the most general sense, what comes to mind? The world has its own idea of image. Image is all about what you portray to others.

Unfortunately in our culture today, we are fed a lot of untruths about image. We are told that we need to look, think and act a certain way. Women are portrayed with a worldly image that makes us more like objects than anything else. Today’s idea of marriage has a different image than it did in the past. Now marriage is nothing more than something you can try out and if you don’t like it, end it. Even in politics there is a certain image that we are supposed to follow…its called being “politically correct.” With all of the different worldly images that we have pounded into us day after day, it can be easy to fall right into that trap.

And that’s exactly why I think self-reflection is very important. We need to consider our thinking and behavior and examine if we have fallen into some of the traps that have been laid out there. Sometimes this happens so subtly that we don’t even notice it.

So now that we have considered the world’s idea of image, let’s look at what God says about image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image…” (Genesis 1:26)

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

…for in the image of God has God made man. (Genesis 9:6)

Genesis is all about the beginning. Clearly, from the beginning God made it known that we were created in HIS image. Not the image the world tells us. Not the image our own hearts tell us. Not the image another person tells us. Our image is to be a reflection of God.

So how are you doing? This is where the self-reflection comes in. Have others been able to see God in you? Or has your reflection been something else? We should be reflecting God in everything we say and do. At the same time, we are contending with these earthly bodies that want to do their own thing. Remember the struggles of Paul? We all share them. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19).

Not too long ago a friend shared with me about some spiritual struggles she was having. God was peeling away layers that were revealing some unflattering things. I tried to encourage her because it wasn’t that long ago that I had gone through a similar experience. It seemed like suddenly all that was “wrong” in me was getting this huge spotlight shone upon them. My encouragement was that it was good He was doing this because in the end, we will know Him more, have grown in our relationship with Him, and grown as a believer…there is always something good that comes out of those times.

Have you ever had someone point out something about you that they didn’t care for? Whether it was true or not (and most likely it was true), it hurt. It hurts to have these less-than-admirable traits, characteristics or flaws pointed out. Most times when someone points something out, it’s meant to do nothing more than hurt. However, when God begins to reveal these things, He has a whole different intent.

God never intends to harm us, to discourage us, to bring us down or to lay guilt upon us. When He peels away the layers and we begin to see the things in us that need change, that need work or that just need to be done away with—it means He is ready to do something new in us! And that should cause us to rejoice. If He left us where we are at, then we would never know growth in Him!

Don’t fear or shy away from self-reflection. This is really about getting down to the nitty-gritty of the Christian walk and determining what still needs some work. I don’t want to stay where I am at. I am not satisfied to continue being the same person I am today. I know that I have a lot of work yet left to be done within me. But at the same time, I can also joyfully look back and realize that I am not the same person I was 20, 10 or 5 years ago. We should be growing, changing and maturing in our walk with God. Part of this comes through times of self-reflection.