When Faith Fails

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”.   In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”   Several times through the years, I’ve heard speakers use a chair as a tangible example of faith.  You see the chair.  You believe the chair will support you.  You have faith in the chair even though you have not proven that it is strong enough.  So, what happens when you step out “on faith” and sit on the chair, only to have it collapse beneath you?  Was it your faith that failed or was it the chair? 

Most of us would agree it was the chair that was at fault.  We will look for a reason to blame the failure.  Maybe the chair was designed for a child and you were just too big for it.  Possibly, the chair was cheaply constructed and the connections just “let go”.  Or, maybe the chair was just old and brittle and was no longer safe for use when you sat in it. Folding chairs are often have a weight limit.  It doesn’t matter how much faith you exhibit, if you choose a chair that is undersized, defective or unsafe, you will have to face failure.  But, I doubt you will swear of chairs for life.  You will choose to sit in other chairs.  You will just be more discerning about your selection of seating. 

So, when we perceive that our faith in God has failed, what’s the issue?  Did God really fail, or did we put our faith in the wrong things?  Too often, I approach God with my list of wants.  I want Him to fix a relationship or a situation.  I want responsibility for which I’m not really prepared.  I want things to stay the same and never change.  I want “stuff” and “things” that I think will bring happiness into my life.  When I treat God like a Genie in a bottle or a kind of Santa Claus, there are more failures than successes in my life. 

What about that relationship?  Are you asking God to fix the other person?  Are there issues that are incompatible with your goals and dreams?  What if you focused on growing yourself and becoming the better person?  Faith is NOT “a magic wand” that will make all of the issues disappear.  Just like a chair, you need to be aware of the things the other person may bring into your relationship: bad temper, sexual promiscuity, control issues, poor spending habits, stinginess, ego are just a few.  The other person may need to be “fixed”, but it’s not your place to decide that.  You are only responsible for repairing the areas of your own life.  I believe in marriage.  I also know that marriage is hard.  Really hard at times. It’s even harder when you refuse to see the danger signals in a relationship.  

How do we define success?  In our society, success is often measured by the car that you drive, the diamond that you wear, the house you buy and the admiration that others heap upon your accomplishments.  I work near the River Oaks area.  I drive through neighborhoods with large beautiful houses.  While there’s a part of me that would love one of these homes, the practical side of me can only see the bills that would have to be paid to maintain such a home and the hours of cleaning that would be needed.  Too many people saddle themselves with debt in order to be seen as a success.  When a young couple is just starting out, there are enough stresses in a new marriage without adding extraordinary debts.  An extravagant wedding (that is over far too quickly) is too often the focus instead of the marriage that is to last a lifetime.  The first home doesn’t have to be a show place.  It doesn’t even have to be your “dream” house.  Work up to that.  Give yourself time and room to grow.  Concentrate on who you are, on what kind of family you want, before you commit to a huge mortgage and car payment. I have faith that all my needs will be met.  But, all the faith in the world will not erase extravagant decisions and the resulting debt that I choose to make. 

No relationship, job, success or amount of money will “make” you happy.  Only you can choose to find happiness in a situation.  Faith may not make you warm and fuzzy.  Faith is not about “ME” and my happiness.   Anytime, I place the responsibility of my happiness or (the blame for my unhappiness) on another person’s shoulders, there will be failure.  Being happy is a choice that ONLY you can make.  Nothing will make you feel happy. 

When hardships come (and they will) and nothing seems to be going my way, does it mean that my faith has failed?  Does it mean that God has failed and I should just write him off?  After struggling with these questions after the death of my husband, I have to answer “no” to both questions.  Because my faith says that God will meet my needs, I am reassured.   Because my faith says that God loves me as a Father loves his child, I am comforted beyond measure.  Because my faith does not depend upon “happy endings” and smiley faces, I stand confident that no matter what, God is still in control.  My faith has changed through the years.  It’s not as me-centric.  My faith is stronger because of the rotten things that have happened.  My faith stands even when the miracles I beg for do not occur, because I know there is a reason.  Ultimately, my faith tells me that I’m not promised this world. What I am promised is an eternity with my God.  That is my hope.  That is why my Faith never fails. 

FAITH THAT STANDS FIRM

It’s been almost 14 years since that awful November day when my life was turned upside down.  The memories of that day will always stay with me.  In an instant I was no longer married, but a widow.  Our happy family of four was now a single-parent family of three.  Dreams that were so exciting became dull memories.  I struggled to get from one day to the next.  My story now had a definite divider: before he died and after he died.  Everything in our lives is gauged by that one event. 

Losing my 47 year old husband was devastating.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Why would God allow such a thing to happen?  I cried and begged God to let me wake up from that horrible nightmare.  But, it wasn’t a nightmare.  It was my new normal; a normal that I hated with every fiber of my being. 

I spent hours agonizing.  Prayer was not a comfort.  The only request I had was for the pain to stop.  I questioned everything I thought I believed. 

  • Does God really exist?
  • And if He does exist, is God really good? 
  • Does He really love me and care about me? 
  • Is there really life after death?
  • What do I believe about Heaven?
  • Is eternity really a gift for the believer?

Through the days, weeks, months and (yes) years, I got my answers.

  • Yes.  God does exist.  And, He withstands my doubts and questions.
    • “Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God.” John 1:1-2 TLB
  • Yes.  God is good.  Fortunately, He’s not fair or vindictive.   He treats me with Grace and Love beyond my imagination.  I’m often too selfish to understand His caring and love.
    •  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  John 3;16 MSG
  • Yes.  God really cares about me in particular.  He carried me through the darkest days.  I saw His care and love through friends and family that stood by me.
    • I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
  • I do believe there is Life after Death.  It is my hope and the only reason I could get through each day. 
    • And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.  I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord.  Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.  So comfort and encourage each other with this news.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 TLB
  • I’m still learning about Heaven.  It’s a place prepared for me, not a floaty place in the clouds.  Heaven is in the presence of God. 
    • “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”  John 14-1-4 MSG
  • The promise of Eternal Life is a gift given to those that have finished their “assignment” here on earth.  Death is not a punishment, but a reward for those of us who believe. 
    • “The world and its evil desires are passing away. But whoever does what God wants them to do lives forever.” 1 John 2:17 NIV

I finally stopped focusing on what my late husband was missing and accepted that he was EXACTLY where he wanted to be: in the presence of God.  He wasn’t missing anything.  It was ME that was missing sharing life with him.  His death wasn’t a punishment.  It was his reward for a life well lived. 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

I still grieve for my loss.  I grieve that my children no longer have their dad.  But, I don’t question God’s plan.  I know He is in control.  I believe in His sovereignty and His plan for me.  My faith keeps me on track!

“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
    and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
    and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
    and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
    I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
    I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
    I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 MSG

Decisions = Consequences

Decisions are an everyday part of life. And every decision results in a consequence of some kind, good or bad.  If I decide to turn off my alarm and sleep an extra 30 minutes, the consequences are rushing to get ready for my day and leaving the house a later than usual.  For every 5 minutes later that I enter the freeway, I reap an additional 10 minutes in Houston traffic.  Was that extra sleep really worth the added stress to my day and drive?  Honestly, it depends on the day.  But, usually, I regret that decision to stay in bed.  And yet, I have this conversation with myself every single morning.

We all make decisions. We decide to do the dishes tonight or wait until later.  In school, it was when (or maybe if) I would study for a test or do my homework.  Every interaction with others begs a decision:  will I be kind and respectful, distant and unattached, or pushy and rude? Sometimes a decision to NOT decide becomes your decision by forcing another to make the call.  At least that way, I have plausible deniability, right? It’s not really my responsibility, because YOU decided this one.  Why is making a decision so daunting at times?  Even when it’s a “good” decision, we seem to fear the consequences of our very actions.  Why?

Maybe this is what we fear: ME.  My “personal preference meter” isn’t a very reliable source for making decisions.  When MY happiness, MY comfort becomes more important than how it affects the ones that depend upon and trust me, the consequences may be difficult to live with on a long term basis.  Our society has become more and more focused on doing what is makes “me” happy as the optimal decision bias.  Even though reality proves that the “happiness” is fleeting and this temporary enjoyment could very likely lead to long term misery.

We’ve seen evidence of this all throughout the Bible: Eve chose to eat the apple;  Abraham had a son with Hagar;  David gave into his desire for another man’s wife with Bathsheba.  There are examples in our lives every day:  telling the “white” lie to cover-up; condoning gossip and back-biting in order to be accepted; sneaking around outside of your marriage to get some “excitement”.  We have come to believe the absolute lie that we deserve happiness.  Truthfully, no one deserves happiness.  Happiness is a daily choice, NOT a destination.  You can chase happiness, but you will not find it.  And when our decisions are based on finding happiness, the consequences will be empty and quite often painful.

So, in this carnival we call life, when we choose all the fun and exciting regardless of personal morals or conscience, consequences can be overwhelming. Much like too much time on the Tilt-a-Whirl you are left off-balance, dizzy and maybe a little ill.  When the excitement wears off and the happiness is no longer palpable, guilt moves in to fill the void.  You can’t go back and undo your actions or unsay the words.  You can only live within this moment.  Eve chose the apple and mankind would forever have sin in our lives.  The consequences of Abraham’s choice to have a son with Hagar are still being played out in our world.  In an attempt to cover up his wrong decision, David would go on to commit murder and saw his own son eventually turn against him.  But, in each case, these people continued to seek God.  They were now on a different path in life and God would use them anyway.

We’ve all heard the saying “You made your bed, now lie in it.” The consequences will be there, even after forgiveness.  We must choose to make better choices and decisions.  Decide to move forward toward God’s will and plan for your life regardless of the current situation.  Avoid getting caught up in the endless whirlwind of running toward the next “ME” moment.  Accept the consequences and work through them.  Look out for those who depend upon you and put their needs first.  Make the decision to be happy today, where you are, even if you can’t understand how that could possibly happen.  You won’t make an instant difference, but you will invest in the future.

Consequences, both good and bad are what we reap. Make your harvest one of which you are proud.

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“Well, you’ve made your bed – now lie in it; you wanted your own way – now, how do you like it?” Proverbs 1:31  MSG

An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

Charlie Brown was known for saying “Good grief!” when he was frustrated. There a very few of us that would consider grief “Good”. But, I’ve learned that grief is a gift.

My first months after my husband’s death were dark. I remember functioning on some level. The pain of grief was numbing. The colors weren’t there. The sun seemed to have disappeared. I felt as if I was trying to swim through mud: exhausted but getting no where. I spent hours in the darkness of night walking in circles and asking God “WHY?”

Many people would tell me I should be happy that my husband was with God. When the tears would start, they would try to make things better, to encourage me to be strong. I had read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 many times:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

Unfortunately, I took this verse to mean that I should not grieve. I felt guilty for grieving. I tried to hide my pain. I struggled with my faith. Was I just not strong enough?

I was blessed to have friends that understood grief. They walked beside me. They allowed my grief to bubble over into their lives. They didn’t try to “fix”me. They just stood with me. They allowed me to learn what a gift grief can be.

Most of us try to avoid pain, to avoid grief. We don’t talk about death. Too often children aren’t exposed to the sorrow of death and funerals. We “protect” them from seeing our own grief. And they are not prepared for tragedy when it occurs.

But death is a reality. Sometimes it comes too early and the questions keep coming. I found myself pointing out people that I didn’t think deserved to be living and asking God why he took my husband and left them. I screamed and begged to have him back or to be taken to be with him.

But one day, I realized that Terry’s death was his reward. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He wasn’t missing a thing. I was grieving for what I had lost. And that was ok. I didn’t have to feel guilty or hide it. I missed my husband. My kids missed their dad and the tears were a symbol of our love for him. I had a new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

When one loses a great love, grief is the result. It’s our last connection to that loved one. The grief will not always bring tears. The grief will not always be paralyzing. Grief will not remain acute. As you move through the process, it becomes chronic: enduring and sometimes recurring. You come to accept the dance with grief. It is bittersweet. A gift of love and memories.

God Provides

November 2005 was an awful time for my family. In an instant I lost my husband. My children lost their dad. I had no idea what it would be like to grow up without a dad there to give advice and encouragement. I had my dad well into my fifties. As I took on the unwanted role of single mom, I wondered how life without Terry would effect Zac and Gracie.

There were lots of offers in the beginning, “If Zac needs a male figure just call me” or “We are here to fill the void”. But, when those times arose, no one seemed to be available. It was “too awkward” or “there’s just not enough time.” But, God provides. The coaches and staff at Mayde Creek High really stepped up to the plate. I saw men just care about my kids. In time, Zac married a wonderful young woman and has a great father-in-law. He’s become a great dad himself. We’ve shed tears on all of his big days as we’ve missed his dad.

Two years ago, I remarried. It was a hard adjustment for Gracie. She had been her daddy’s little princess and had worked with him on lots of sets for children’s church and VBS. Then, it had been just “the two of us” for so long. Chris Dittert was always there to give my daughter a “daddy” hug on Fathers Day or any day she just needed it. And there were others that tried to be there, but we had developed our own rhythm. Tim was not a welcome change in her view.

As time has passed, the two of them have developed an interesting relationship. Gracie has learned to lay floors, build cabinets, run electrical wire and install windows. Although she is quick to say “we were just fine before you came along”, she has accepted and (I believe) loves her step figure in her own way. It does my mom’s heart good to see her talking and working with Tim. They share common memories of Terry as well as looking toward the future.

Both of my kids miss Terry. He was and will always be a big part of their lives. God has provided wonderful memories of the past. And he continues to provide for our family today and for the future.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . .”

Joel 2:25a NIV

Counterfeit Living

When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas.  The reason was simple:  they portrayed lives that were not realistic.  The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed.  The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING.  Life was not that exciting or interesting.  This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978.  When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard.  They watched “Dallas” on television and  believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.

 

Fast forward to today.  We still have the fantasies created by television shows.   And,  we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life.  All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living.  As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives.  They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.

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Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently?  Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family.  But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together.   The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment.   But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”.  I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something.  The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?”  My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?”  I was also raised to value myself  and to know that marriage is more that sex.  It’s commitment and building a life & family together.  I’m not saying that waiting is easy.  It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop.  What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait.  You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.

Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment.  Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”.  Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see.  Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.

Reality can be hard.  Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person.  Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure.  Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to  follow their own path.  Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or  tattling about the person you “love” so much.

When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy.  His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy.  I choose to be happy or not.  You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.”  Not very romantic, but entirely true.  If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there.  I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time.  Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness.  But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous.  Because,  I can  know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them.  I can choose to be happy.  I can choose JOY!  Counterfeit living will never provide that.  Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise:  “Is this real?  Will this last?”

And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4 

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.”  Proverbs 16:20

There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships.  And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions.  They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited?  Was I worth it?”

I challenge you to look at your own life.  Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys?  Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see?  Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair?  Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness?  When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality.  I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best.  I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment.  I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.

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Would I Follow?

I am currently reading the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  This book is Nabeel Qureshi’s personal account of his life as he went from a devout upbringing in the Muslim faith to find that Jesus Christ was indeed his personal savior.  Throughout the book, the author talks of how simple it often was to shut down any Christian that tried to talk to him about faith in Christ.  The reason it was so simple: the  Christians had only a head knowledge of the “whys” of their own beliefs.  They could not back up the normal rhetoric that is given to prove their beliefs.

I have been struck by many parts of this book.  Most of all, I have to face that many of us cannot defend the faith we say that we have.  Nabeel studied the Bible to be able to  refute the usual comments.  It wasn’t until he met someone who was willing and able to give him facts that Nabeel began to truly “hear” the message.  On the flip side, Nabeel also had to come to terms with the fact that much of what he knew of his Muslim beliefs were based on what he had been told.  Studying the Qur’an and other documents as he defended his childhood religion was very unsettling for him.    Even though he have read the entire Qur’an by the time he was 5 years old, he didn’t know or understand much of the basics of his faith.

Nabeel Qureshi’s decision to follow Christ was not an easy choice.  It took years to get to that decision.  He had to weigh giving up EVERYTHING in order to follow the Christ of the Bible.  This decision caused immense pain for both of his parents.  In “Christianity Today”, he made this spoke about the effect his conversion had on his family:

“A few days later, the two people I loved most in this world were shattered by my betrayal. To this day my family is broken by the decision I made, and it is excruciating every time I see the cost I had to pay.
But Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation. He redeemed my suffering by making me rely upon him for my every moment, bending my heart toward him. It was there in my pain that I knew him intimately. He reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering. It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”

I have to ask myself, “Would I do this?”  I’ve lived a pretty easy life.  Sure there have been bumps along the way, some of them very big bumps.  When my first husband died, I struggled with my faith.  I reviewed all that I said that I believed.  And, I concluded that my faith in God was correct and real.  But, I was never required to give up everything:  my family, my core beliefs, the familiar.  Would I do that?  Could I defend my beliefs to another in a logical and cohesive manner?  Would I be able to give details and truth?  I wish I could give a resounding YES, but I’m not sure.

My family and I have been watching the Leah Remini show on Scientology.  I often sit in astonishment at what people are willing to do and to give up for their beliefs in this “religion”.  While reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have a different understanding of the Scientology followers:  they too risk everything for their beliefs.  The difference?  Nabeel Qureshi’s Muslim upbringing did acknowledge parts of the Bible and recognize some of the same people as Christianity (although differently), he had a basis to build upon when confronted for Christianity.  He was willing to debate and discuss to prove his point.  Scientology doesn’t allow any questions.  There is no debate.  It’s all or nothing.  As we have listened to people who have left Scientology, it is so sad to see that most have still not found salvation in Jesus.  How do we as Christians help to fill the void?  How do we take steps in this tender and painful area of trust for people’s of any faith that are hurt and searching?  Do we really care?  Do we really want to step out?

Again, I’m not sure.  It’s more  convenient to throw a tract or book at someone than to interact with  them in any depth.  It’s emotionally safer to invite someone to church than to sit down and have coffee and talk over  and over again.  It’s easier to only communicate about God when you need something by asking  for “a little prayer for _____”  instead of getting involved with God on a daily basis with His people.  It’s less intimidating to just mind my own business and let someone else do the hands on stuff.

I’m challenged.  I’m struggling.

For you see, standing up for one’s beliefs to those in your closest circle of family and friends can be hard, especially if they don’t agree.  It takes balance to lovingly rebuke those who claim to be Christian and  do not live as such.  It takes a measured patience to be ridiculed as “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” when you have lived and may actually have a basis for this “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” advise.  The easiest road may not be the best choice and momentary laughter does not mean a lifetime of joy.

Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer on September 16, 2017 at the age of 34.   His parents were helping to care for him during his illness.  I am so fortunate to have his story from which to learn.  He has touched and continues to touch many lives with his stand for Christ.

Would you follow?