Don’t Settle for Secondhand Faith

img_0072I came across this line in my bible study recently, “…God wants us to know Him intimately through personal experience.  He does not want us to settle for secondhand faith.”  Secondhand faith?  The term got my attention – and it made me stop and think about what it means to have faith in God.

There’s a verse in the bible that says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6

How does that happen?  How do we “get” faith?  These questions took me back to a pretty difficult time in my life.  I am the step-mom to 3 amazing young men – all grown and out of the house now.  Several years ago we were the “summer parents” while the boys spent the school year with their mom in another state.  Over the course of one summer, their mom agreed that they could remain here for the school year.  We were so excited… we started the process of transferring school records, finding which schools they’d go to, figuring out all the little school year details, and planning our lives around this pretty significant change.

Just a few days before the boys were scheduled to start school, their mom changed her mind… and because we hadn’t been able to get the legal custody changed quickly enough, we had to send the boys back to their mom for the school year.

I can’t even describe the emotions I felt.  Anger, despair, confusion, crushed hopes, broken heart…  And it was at that time, in the midst of all those feelings that I had a long, heart-to-heart talk with God.  This was no nice, polite prayer – it was about the most real conversation you might imagine…  I laid out my heart before God – all of it!  And then I stepped out in faith and asked God to be sufficient in my need, to help me stand firm and do the right thing out of love and reverence for Him, not based on my feelings.

To me, what I was really asking was, “God, if you’re who you say you are, I need you to show me right now.”  And one moment, then one hour, then one day at a time, God gave me the strength to move forward.  Many years later, I am blessed by the relationship I have with each of our boys – a clear demonstration of God’s ability to meet my needs in difficulty.

This is just one of many times God has proven sufficient in my life.  He has never failed to come through for me.  Never.  And to me, that’s what faith means.  I believe because I know and have experienced God in my life first-hand!

If you’re at a place where you’re struggling with something…whatever it may be, God is sufficient for your need, too.  If you believe me when I say that, that’s secondhand faith. But don’t settle for that – step out in faith, believe God and get some firsthand experience yourself.

Has The World Gone Crazy?

Terrorized Woman Screaming for Help

Has the world gone crazy?  It looks like the values and ideals I grew up with have been tossed carelessly aside, in favor of agendas and ideals touted by whoever yells them the loudest.  The focus on media, and the ongoing stream of information makes it seem like if we blink, or sleep, or simply unplug we’ll be left behind and never able to understand or catch up.

People seem angry. Tired. Overwhelmed. Afraid.  I get it because I find myself feeling that way sometimes, too.  And then I start to feel hopeless because it IS overwhelming.  Too much, too fast, and too loud.

What’s the answer?

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

– Colossians 3:1-2

I don’t believe for a minute that we’re supposed to “check out” of life – we are most certainly active participants in the world around us. I’m not talking about sticking our heads in the sand – I’m talking about survival: spiritual and emotional survival. Staying balanced, calm and sane in the midst of a chaotic world.

I made a decision many years ago, to follow Jesus Christ.  That means that He has become my foundation – my anchor, and my choices and values should reflect that belief.  That’s my hope.  That’s my balance.  That’s what I come back to when the chaos threatens to invade my peace.

I know this: The things in this world will change: values, leaders, countries, laws, relationships, borders… but Jesus doesn’t change.  It’s the one thing in my life I know I can absolutely rely on – and I choose to focus even more on what God says is truth (in the bible), so that I know how to handle the chaos around me without becoming enmeshed in the craziness.

Let the world have its craziness.  I choose Jesus and His peace.  You can, too.

P.S.  It won’t kill you to unplug.

Who’s In Charge?

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Bill is the AAA saint that came to change my flat tire on the way to church – I’m lousy at selfies, but learning to enjoy “adventures”!

Do you know someone who is task-oriented?  You know what I’m talking about – always has a plan, likes to solve problems, is seldom caught unprepared for anything … Well, that’s me!  I am a planner – which is great for getting things done, but is sometimes a bit lacking in the “flexibility” department!

I was thinking this week about a conversation I had with my daughter-in-law a couple of years ago. It makes me laugh now, and went something like this:

Her: I think my husband is pretty much a “spur of the moment” kind of guy. He just likes to pick up and go.
Me: But if you don’t make a plan then what happens if you don’t have enough gas to get where you’re going, or enough diapers for the day? What if you have a flat tire and don’t have AAA?
Her: But Mom, that’s when you just have fun figuring it out! It’s an adventure finding the gas or fixing the tire.

How long has it been since I saw a flat tire as an adventure? Or not filled up my gas tank when it got below ¼ tank? More importantly, how can I be truly useful to God if I’m not prepared to be flexible and go on His adventures on His time?

What about Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”?

Or Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”?

Or Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid”?

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with a good plan (I LOVE a good plan)!  But when the need to accomplish a task becomes more important than a relationship, or prevents me from spontaneously responding to the direction of the Holy Spirit – then I’ve got a problem!

Dear Jesus, I want to do Your will in my life every moment. Help me to let go of what is “comfortable” to me in order to see what YOU have for me today. Not my way, not my will, Lord – but THINE be done!

Video Games and Spiritual Maturity

img_0041I love a good Mario Kart race!  I’m not good at it, but it’s fun to race my character through hairpin turns, avoid the obstacles that try to knock me off course, and honestly – just stay on the track!

When our (now adult) kids were at home, they would spend hours playing video games – and unlock all the game levels that were too hard for me.  So even though I really only knew how to navigate the easy races, I could go visit (and attempt to play) levels that were way too hard for me, levels that I would never be able to master without playing hours and hours of video games – time which I just wasn’t willing to invest.

The result?  I was in WAY over my head because I hadn’t developed the gaming skills required to face the challenges of the new level.

I was thinking today about some of the people in my life that demonstrate spiritual maturity.  I want what they have – patience, compassion, lives of service without expecting anything in return, generous with their time, talents and treasures. I want to be more like that!  That kind of maturity takes an intentional, disciplined investment – time in prayer, studying God’s word, actually doing what the bible says in my life.

And just like my video game experience, I don’t always put in the time required to develop an intimate, growing relationship with Jesus.  The result?  I sometimes find myself in WAY over my head because I haven’t developed the spiritual skills and maturity required to navigate the challenges of life.

Patience and compassion don’t come because we want them, they become part of our character as we choose to pursue them – seeking God’s way in difficult situations and asking for His power to change our hearts and minds as we try to demonstrate them in one situation at a time. Lives of service and humility come from understanding God’s amazing grace and our own sin, and choosing to lay down our lives in submission to Him every moment of every day.

There is no magic wand, and no shortcut to the next level without mastering the one we’re already on first.  It’s through the daily pursuit of God – time intentionally spent in the bible and time with God in prayer, that we become mature – and  learn how to navigate through life’s difficult turns, avoid the obstacles that try to knock us off course, and stay on track!

What You Focus On…

My step-father Pete died several years ago.  I look back fondly on some of the lessons I learned from him – and something that he used to tell me a lot, “What you focus on gets bigger.”

Can you remember being a little kid and telling scary stories at camp or at a sleep-over – and then being so scared you couldn’t fall asleep?  Or do you ever watch a movie and laugh, or cry along with the character?  Or how about falling in love and you can’t think of anything except that person?  What you focus on gets bigger.

I started to think about this in terms of my spiritual life.  When I’m struggling with something in my life I know needs to change, my tendency is to focus on the problem.

Did you ever try to stop doing something and it just got worse? What you focus on gets bigger!   If that’s the case, then how do we ever solve a problem?  How do we stop gossiping, stop lying, stop looking to people instead of God for approval, stop being afraid all the time…?

Here’s the key – the focus thing doesn’t just apply to bad things – it applies to my focus on God as well.  So if I choose to focus on God, He gets bigger in my life.  Pretty simple, huh?  But not always so easy to do!

So what’s the first thing I need to do when I identify sin in my life (something I know doesn’t please God)?  Focus on God instead of the problem.  Then humbly ask God (who actually has the power to make the change in me) to fix it.  Stay focused on Him – and refuse to take my eyes off of Him. Hang around with people who love God, too.  Listen to encouraging music or podcasts that keep my heart and mind focused.  Stop talking about the problem, and focus on the solution.

Because whatever you focus on gets bigger!

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. – Colossians 3:2

The Amazing Jiggling Woman

I can’t believe I’m sharing this with anyone … but yesterday while I was driving down a rough patch of the freeway, the skin on my forearms jiggled.  I’m not talking about the “wing jiggle” of the upper arm that makes most of us 50-something gals stop going sleeveless.  I’m talking about that innocent, and so far unremarkable part of my arm between my wrist and my elbow.

My first response was laughter (yep, right out loud by myself in the car) – then horror.

When did I get “old lady skin”?  Was it about the same time as I started seeing little strands of silver hair in the mirror?  Or when I looked at my bill at the restaurant to see that the waitress had given me the Senior’s Discount?  Honestly, I don’t feel old – but the arm-jiggling is a dead give away!

It got me thinking about getting older… and my half-full way of thinking about things made me wonder if there might be any good things in getting older that offset the “jiggly” things?

Here’s my short list of good things about being 50-something:

  • I am more certain than ever of God’s amazing, merciful, unending and unconditional love for me. That puts everything else into proper perspective.
  • Although I’m happy to share what I think, a discussion of ideas is seldom as personal and dramatic as it was in younger times. And I’m far less concerned if people think I’m right!
  • There are few things as sweet as time and laughter with a girlfriend.
  • I love my grandchildren dearly, and am absolutely willing to risk the wrath of their parents in order to spoil them. (Note: this applies generally to other people’s grandchildren, too!)
  • There is little room in my life for drama. I like to get right to the heart of things and then move on.
  • When I look into the eyes of another woman in pain, I want to make sure she knows someone has seen and cares. And mostly that God sees and cares.
  • Next to God, my husband is my absolute love and delight and I hope everyone knows it!

Although this whole thing started with a little forearm jiggle, I’m glad for the chance to think about some of the great things in my life!  Instead of being worried about this new jiggling problem, I think I’ll just keep laughing!

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime- until your hair is white with age.  I made you, and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.” – Isaiah 46:4