Friday, January 30, 2015

A Crisis of Doubt

Funny story...

I was struggling a bit with some doubts recently and I was praying for some insight. After I prayed and searched the Scriptures, I felt led to search on the internet for articles about doubts in the heart of a Christian. I didn't want to say anything to anyone because I was afraid I would make someone stumble, so I struggled silently. The only One who knew what was going on in my heart was God Himself.

Here's the funny part...

When I searched the internet, a blog I wrote over a year ago came up in my search. Yes, you read that right. I wrote a blog about doubt! And I had completely forgotten about it. For crying out loud, could it be possible God would use me to help me?

Well, He did. Needless to say, I'm a little rough around the edges and sometimes it takes a few times before Truth really sinks into my thick head! Thank you, Lord, for not giving up on me. I'm reprinting the blog because I know I'm not the only one who struggles with the occasional doubt. I hope and pray it will encourage you today!


"I think the Bible was written by men. It is a political thing to try to control people." Those words just broke my heart. I was speaking with someone I love last week who has many doubts about God, religion, who Jesus is and what it all means. This is someone who grew up in a Christian home and even would have said they were a Christian several years ago. But doubts, fears, and wordly wisdom have invaded the heart of this precious person. And things have changed. After a long conversation, I realized my "arguments" were useless. I needed to pray and trust God but I had no power to make someone change their mind.

Later that day, someone on Facebook, who is an atheist, posted an article that basically says Jesus is not real but was made up by the Roman Government to control the Jewish population. I couldn't even read the whole article because I felt nauseous. It seemed everywhere I turned last week, there was another violation of my faith and I was getting weary.

I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't start to doubt. What if they were right? What if I'm a fool? What if Jesus was just a made-up story? Have you ever been face to face with serious doubts like this?  Not only have you probably had doubts race through your mind at some point, they have also run through the minds of some of the strongest Christians in history. Even John the Baptist had his doubts - and the Bible says he was "filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb"! He was the voice calling in the wilderness, telling others the Messiah was coming - He saw the dove land on Jesus and heard the voice of God say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." If he doubted, why do I think I wouldn't struggle at some point with doubt? You can read about his doubting here.)

As I have struggled and wrestled with God in this season of doubt, I've really come a long way in a short period of time! He is so faithful to meet us where we are, to answer our questions, to bring us encouragement and to renew our faith when we earnestly seek Him. Here are some of the things I've learned in this "doubt crisis" that I want to share with you:

1.  Confess the Doubt 
My first thought was that I shouldn't tell anyone about my doubts. I don't want anyone not believing because of doubts I would have. I don't want to make people think I doubt to the point of unbelief! But if I wasn't honest, it would stay in the darkness and it would certainly grow. That's what happens when we pretend. And then we do not walk in truth. God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all. I decided to voice my concerns and shine light on my doubts by speaking with a couple of trusted friends. And I found lots of company and more encouragement than I could have imagined!

2. Renew Your Mind
When doubts arise, it's an all-out intellectual and spiritual battle. But I'm reminded of how Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 how the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. God saw to it that we would never find Him through human wisdom! He prefers to use His Word and what the world considers "foolish preaching". If you are struggling in the darkness of doubt, find a way to go toward the light of truth - where God is. Spend time in His Word, with His people and in prayer. Let Him renew your mind. He will do it. Some of the scriptures that helped me this week are listed in this blog. I encourage you to look them up - memorize them and know them (1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Hebrews 11, Mark 9:14-25, Psalm 94:19).  It's transforming!

3. Ignite Your Faith
Keep in mind that Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. He loves our Help my unbelief!" I can totally relate. God answered his prayer of faith and healed his son. And Jesus didn't scold the man for his confession.
faith! He is drawn to a humble heart that is seeking Him by His grace through faith.  Fan the flames of faith by remembering and thinking on the promises God has given and recalling the faithfulness of God in your past. Read through your old journals, recall times when you know God moved in your life. Remember the Dad whose son was possessed by demons in Mark 9? He asked Jesus to heal his son and then Jesus said, "If you can believe, all things are possible for him who believes." The father then replied, "I do believe!

4. Keep Your Doubt in Perspective
Finally, remember that doubt is not unbelief! There is a big difference. Doubt is questioning what one believes, but unbelief is choosing not to believe despite the evidence. The reason you are struggling with doubt may be because God is getting ready to deepen your faith even more! Take courage - and stand firm.

"When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer." Psalm 94:19

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Sweetest Hug I've Ever Received

I was emotionally exhausted. I'd been crying myself to sleep for four nights out of loneliness and homesickness. I was in a small village called Lijiang, a Southwestern village in China. I had been away from home for almost eight weeks. I was on the adventure of a lifetime, but it was the last leg of this adventure and I was emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically spent. I missed my family. I didn't speak Chinese. The people I was traveling with were a lot of fun, but most of them did not understand me at all. My faith was challenged in ways I'd never experienced before.

A little over three weeks earlier, I had been voted off my tribe on the reality show, Survivor: China. The protocol is that the contestants who are voted off do not go home until the show wraps up production, therefore there are no "spoilers" back at home before the show is aired later in the year. So all 16 of us had to go back home at the same time. Six of us who did not last long enough to make the jury were treated to a wonderful trip in China. We had visited Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and now we were in Lijiang. We had seen the Great Wall of China, the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Forbidden City and more culture than I have ever experienced! As beautiful as the trip was, I was really missing my family and I was desperate for connection with other believers in Jesus Christ.
The ancient streets of Leijing, China

As I prayed one morning, I prayed a very specific and desperate prayer. I wanted to meet another believer in Jesus Christ and get a hug! It seemed a strange request, but I knew it was something my spirit was in need of, and I wasn't afraid to ask. Of course, I had in my mind that it would probably be some Christian couple that was staying in the same hotel, there to pick up their adopted daughter because in every hotel we stayed in across China, this was commonly seen. We saw dozens of families there on route to pick up their sweet new little one! It really warmed my heart.

So that morning, I set out to the restaurant for coffee and looked around for someone God may have sent to encourage my weary heart. But the restaurant was empty. I was so sure God was going to have someone there that I was a bit shocked, honestly. We ended up leaving the hotel awhile later and walked around the cobblestone streets of the ancient market. As we walked, I prayed and was still looking for a connection with someone, knowing God had a plan.

About twenty minutes into our excursion, I saw something unusual from a distance. Every shop had Chinese writing and I couldn't read any of it, but one shop straight ahead had an English word on it. As I walked closer to the shop, I realized it said "Emmanuel". My heart raced and tears immediately filled my eyes. I ran into the shop and looked around. There were little carvings of Biblical stories that were all hand made. I saw Noah's Ark, the 10 Commandments, Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, you name it - tons of sweet carvings encased in beautiful glass.

In the corner of the shop was a young Chinese woman who was carving away at a cross. Our eyes met and I said, "Jesus?". She looked at me and her eyes grew wider and she shook her head up and down saying, "Shi De!"(this means "yes") I pointed to her cross and then pointed to my heart and she stood up and hugged me as we both sobbed. We were sisters, but we had no means of communication except "Jesus". She didn't speak a lick of English and I didn't speak a lick of Chinese, but I have never felt so close to someone as I did that day!

There will come a time in the future when I believe I will see my sweet Chinese sister again in heaven, and on that day we will communicate with no language barrier and I will share with her how she was an answer to a desperate prayer in China in August of 2007. Hers was the sweetest hug I've ever received. I look forward to this reunion!

If you are waiting on an answered prayer, I want to encourage you to get the picture of what you think the answer should look like out of your mind and hold on tight! God's plan is going to blow you away. I believe He used that precious young woman because I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He sent her to me. Hang on and trust Him. He's working. And if you're looking for what you think He will do, you may miss altogether what He is actually doing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Unforced Rhythm of Grace

What was I thinking?

Those were my first thoughts one morning when I tried to get out of bed after I first started working out after a two year hiatus. Everything hurt! I pushed harder than I should have, hoping that if I did I would see quick results. I enjoyed the fitness class I was attending but was being reminded with every step, every movement, that I was going to have to pay for the time I spent not working out consistently over the past couple of years. I wasn't mad about being sore, I was mad that I allowed myself to get so out of shape in the first place!

When you take time away from fitness, you lose your fitness. You are more sore. You are less flexible. You are more tired. You cannot go as hard as you used to go.

And you know better.  

It takes a few weeks to make a habit and I found that just before I would get to the place where it might become a habit, I would always find excuses not to continue.

I'm busy. I'm tired. I'm worn out. I'm....well, you get the picture.

I can get into this same rut with my spiritual fitness. I find myself slipping away from God, away from His church, away from His Word, not listening to His voice. I find myself more weary. I'm less hope-filled. My focus turns to the negative.

And I know better. 

But I'm busy. I'm tired. I'm worn out. I'm....well, you get the picture.

Why is it so hard to do the things that are the most important for us? Why must it be so hard to do the things that matter most? Maybe it's because we need to want it more than anything else and sometimes wanting something important over wanting something comfortable and easy can be tricky. It's easy to lose sight of that in this busy world. But what do we really want?

It's so hard to get in the habit of going to church and so easy to lose it.

It's so hard to be still and spend time listening for God's voice and so easy to ignore it.

It's so hard to pray and so easy to lose my focus.

It's so hard to do the right thing and stand for Truth and so easy to compromise.

It's so hard to go to the gym and so easy to stay home.

Life can be so hard.

But it doesn't have to be.

There is a place you reach in your spiritual and physical life where it's not as hard to do these things anymore, it's actually harder not to do them. I think it's called the unforced rhythm of grace. And it is possible to live in that rhythm! It will take discipline and time. But it will be worth it. Don't give up!

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fear and Death Have No Hold on Us

Hope for the Fearful 

June 14, 2007. It was the night before I was leaving to go to China to compete on Survivor and a heavy, terrifying and almost paralyzing wave of fear swept over me. I told my husband I had changed my mind and didn't want to go because I was afraid I would die and I didn't want my family to have to go through that pain and hurt. Rod and I prayed about me being a contestant on the show and knew God was directing our steps for me to go, but I still had incapacitating fear. My husband said something so wise: "We know the Bible says that our days are numbered, that God knows our time before we even come to be, right? Well, if it's your time, you will die no matter if you go or not. Wouldn't you rather die being obedient, than disobedient?"

I will never forget the impact that had on me. To this day, I fear less, knowing God is in control and I can trust Him. Not only does this help me fear less in my own life, but it also gives me comfort and peace to let go and trust God with the lives of those I love.
"Our times are in God’s hand; it is well they are so, for he will take care that those who are his shall die in the best time: however their death may seem to us untimely, it will be found not unseasonable." -Matthew Henry
I love this quote above because it reminds me that when we pass away unexpectedly, we can be sure it was never unexpected with God. Our days are numbered from the moment we were just a thought in God's mind. He takes us home at our best time. Psalm 139:16 says, "You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed." 

Our time to step into eternity from this temporary life is determined and set, and there is nothing we can do to make it happen sooner or later. (You might be wondering about someone who takes their own life. There's a wonderful article written from a biblical perspective here that can help you understand the complexities of this situation.) Knowing our time is set doesn't give us a ticket to be reckless, mind you. We are still told we are to take care of our bodies, as we realize that they are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We will answer to God for this one day. God expects us to be good stewards of this incredible gift! But it does mean that we cannot let fear hold us back from obedience. Every day we wake up and have breath, we can be sure there is a plan in motion for our lives. A life lived in fear is not a life fully lived!

Hope for Those Who Have Lost Someone

The Word of God can bring healing and hope to fearful heart, and also to a hurting heart. Scriptures remind us that when we lose someone unexpectedly, we can still find peace in knowing that God is in control and has a greater plan we may not see. Nothing is unexpected with God! Isaiah 57:1-2 says, "The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death."

Often, when someone we love passes away, we are left with the "what if" and the "I should have" questions. These thoughts can be paralyzing and incredibly painful.  When one of my college roommates passed away after being in an automobile accident one morning in 1988, I kept telling myself, "I should have stopped her from leaving at that moment." And "If only I had breakfast with her instead of sleeping in, she wouldn't have left at that moment and she'd still be alive." I took responsibility for something that was not my fault, and the fear and guilt was overwhelming. Honestly, it wasn't until I understood God's timing and purposes that I realized, years later, that I was not to blame. But for a long time, I was deeply troubled by these thoughts. 

We never will understand, this side of heaven, why things happen the way they do. One thing we can understand, however, is the heart of God. From His perfect perspective, He sees the bigger picture and even when we cannot understand His plan, we can understand His heart.  Whatever the purpose, we can always trust the plans of God, who is sovereign over everything. His plans are beyond our comprehension, but His love and His heart has been revealed to us through His Word and through His Son. 

I pray that if you've lost someone dear that you will find peace in knowing God loves you deeply and His heart breaks for you as you mourn the loss of someone so precious. He knows your pain and He hears your cries. He bottles your tears. His heart breaks for you in your time of heartache. It's okay to mourn, it's okay to feel the way you feel. And I pray that if fear is holding you back from living your life fully, that you can let the fear go and walk in the boldness and confidence that God has you in His arms, and He will never let you go.

Walk confidently knowing when the day comes for you to step into eternity, He knew that day was coming. He's been expecting you! The party on the other side will be beyond your comprehension.

The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. -John 10:10

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wake Up!

Have you ever been in a dark room, sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of anything and someone comes into the room and flips the light on? You wake up, completely offended. You want to punch whoever turn on the lights right in the face. How rude! You were perfectly fine in your darkness! You were sleeping, completely unaware of anything and oblivious to the world around you.  

When I share the truth about Jesus Christ with someone who has spent their life in the darkness, I get the same reaction sometimes. They can be completely offended. How rude! They were perfectly fine in the darkness! They were sleeping, completely unaware of anything and very satisfied. Now that the light is flipped on, they have to deal with reality. Reality can be hard to deal with, especially when you’ve been in the "comfortable darkness" for so long.

I was reading about Saul (who later became Paul) this morning in Acts, chapter 9. When he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was literally, physically blinded by His Light. It had been days and he was still blind. His spiritual eyes were now open, yet he couldn’t physically see yet. A man named Ananias was told by God to find Saul and pray for his sight to be restored. He obeyed and as he prayed for Saul, the Bible says that “at once something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.” Interesting.

In the Bible, Satan is often referred to as the serpent. The deceiver. Here’s another description of him:

“Satan has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4

We are also told, in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. That means, he comes in an pretty package. He comes as an angel, as one telling the “truth”. He makes sense. His words add up and satisfy our desire to turn the lights out again and go back to sleep. 

It never occurred to me until this morning that the “scales” that fell off Saul’s eyes could represent the serpent himself.  Satan blinded Saul to the truth for so many years.  Saul was a killer of Christians. He persecuted them. He hated them. But now Saul met Jesus and things were very different. He was no longer blind to the Truth, but was finally able to see reality as Satan’s lies fell from his eyes. And he embraced the reality of Jesus.

John 3:19-21 says, “….God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” 

Basically, when we realize we are sinners, we have a choice to make. We can turn the lights off and go back to sleep (the comfortable choice, obviously) or we can deal with reality and admit that we are in desperate need of a Savior. Our sin has completely taken us over and the only Hope we have is Christ. Sin is what separates us from God. Sin is what keeps us from seeing the Truth that God doesn’t want us to be separated from Him. The Bible says “All have sinned and fall short of God’s standard.” But it also says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ came and lived a sinless life because He knew we couldn’t do it. And when we put our faith in what He did for us, asking forgiveness for our sin, we are given full access to that relationship with God!

My friend, don’t be naive. Don’t fall for Satan’s schemes. He is not a little demon-looking, pitch forked, red, horned creature. He disguises himself as an angel of light. He will tell you to deal with it later and just push the snooze button, it's not that important. He makes sense. He is real. He is fighting for your soul. There is an invisible battle going on for you. You can only see this when you allow the lights to come on in your life.

You need to know this: God is fighting for your soul, too. What He did does not make sense. Max Lucado says it best:

It is inexplicable. It doesn't have a drop of logic nor a thread of rationality...

Bloodstained royalty. A God with tears. A creator with a heart. God became earth's mockery to save His children.

How absurd to think that such nobility would go to such poverty to share such a treasure with such thankless souls.

But He did.

And the only thing more absurd than this gift is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it. 

God sent Christ to rescue you from the darkness. Don’t turn the light back off. You are more than a victim of Satan’s schemes. You are loved and there really is a fight going on for your very soul. Please…allow those scales to fall from your eyes and embrace the reality of Jesus. 

Isaiah 9:2  The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Ephesians 5:14  Wake up, O sleeper! Rise up from the dead and Christ will give you Light.

Got Questions?