Wishy-Washy Faith & a Steadfast God

There’s only so many blogs you can write about “waiting” but that’s exactly where we’ve found ourselves over the last couple of months, ehh…year.  It’s been a little reminiscent of my five year old’s constant repetition of questions and talking.  Seriously, from the time my son’s tiny toes hit the floor in the morning until his precious blanket sniffing routine lures him to sleep at night …. it’s constant chatter, over and over again, always the same thing.  That’s what it’s felt like with God lately.  He was consistently saying “wait, wait, and wait some more”.  And just like my son’s endless questions, sometimes it just gets old.  You get weary of hearing the same thing all the time!  One more time and you think you’ll scream!  Or crumble completely.

And that’s where we were three weeks ago.  While Matt was broken emotionally, I was feebly attempting to put a brave face forward.  Trying my best to reassure Matt I was with him 100%.  Reminding him that everything would be ok but all the while waging a war inside my own mind.  Doubts, fears, confusion, anger, frustration screaming inside my brain …. what in the world are WE doing?!?  God, what are YOU doing?!?

And yet again, God met us when we needed Him most.  A simple answer to prayer.  An opportunity for my husband to work!  God physically lifted Matt’s head that day and if that wasn’t enough, He reassured ME the next morning…

On several occasions during the week prior I had actually verbalized and recorded in my journal that I felt like my prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling.  It was like they were going nowhere and I was talking into thin air.  So when our pastor opened the message Sunday morning by asking the congregation, “Do you ever feel like your prayers are just hitting the ceiling and going nowhere?” I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud!  If I didn’t know any better I would have sworn they had bugged our room!  Ha!  But no.  No wires or bugs just the working and moving of The Holy Spirit.

He went on to share from Luke 18: 1-8, the parable of the persistent widow.  Right off, verse 1 tells us what the parable is about: “always pray and never give up”.  Whoa!  Ok, Lord.  In the midst of our waiting He was reminding me that He does, in fact, hear me.  He sees me.  He loves me despite my sin and refusal to trust Him.

Oh, why do I have to be so wishy-washy in my faith?  Back and forth.  Up and down.  It truly is a cycle.  One day I’m standing on God’s promises, believing that He’s working for our good, and trusting in His timing and then the next I’m forgetting the truth, doubting He has a plan and vying for control of the situation.  It’s in those moments of weakness, in the midst of my human frailty I lose perspective.  I lose sight of who God is and who I am in Him.

So who is God?  Even as I attempt to write this paragraph I struggle!  How in the world do you put into words the greatness of The Holy God?!!  I think so often I try to rationalize the mystery and wonder of God and by doing so I wrongfully confine Him to a box.  In my feeble attempts to understand I end up reducing Him down and diminishing the size of who He truly is!

We’ve been singing a song at church off the newest Passion album called “Worthy of Your Name”.  I think it might be a new favorite.  The song speaks of God our King: “no ear has heard or eye has seen the image of the Father until Heaven came to live with me, a rescue like no other”.  Fully God, fully Man…that alone is mind blowing!  He’s so much higher than I can even fathom.  I think it’s the bridge of the song that’s my very favorite though…

My Author, my Maker, my Ransom, my Savior, my Refuge, my Hiding Place.  You’re my Helper, my Healer, my Blessed Redeemer, my Answer, my Saving Grace.  You’re my Hope in the shadows, my Strength in the battles, my Anchor for all my days.  And You stand by my side and You stood in my place… Jesus, no other name!  YOU ARE WORTHY OF YOUR NAME!!!!  

The list could go on and on, on and on…  Yes Lord, You are worthy of Your name!  And if that isn’t enough, the cherry on the top: HE. DOES. NOT. CHANGE!!!  In fact, it’s impossible for Him to.  Over and over in scripture and throughout history we see the constant motion of change – our surroundings, our circumstances, our hearts, our actions … yet He is unwavering and completely steadfast!  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!  Amen!

 

Whether I’m grounded in the the knowledge of my faith or floundering in doubt and sin, He loves me.  Period.  There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me any more or to love me any less.  It’s because I’ve placed my faith in Jesus and He’s forgiven my sins (and continues to forgive my sins) that I am called His own!  It’s only through His grace that I belong to Him.  I’m a daughter of the Most High God.  I’ve been purchased, redeemed, and sealed with His Spirit.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, can snatch me from His hands!!!  And if “He who did not spare even His own son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Rom. 8:32)  Wow, that’s humbling!!!  In that case, I can trust Him to provide what I need, when and how I need it.

Oh my goodness, I’m so thankful He doesn’t parent the way I do.  Where I’m prone to run low on patience and want to scream or shut down because of one too many questions He says “come to me”, “never stop asking, never stop praying”.  He knows my faith will falter, He knows I’ll lose perspective of who He is and who I am in Him yet He wants me to come near.  He continues to welcome me, always there with open arms, ready to receive me even in my wishy-washy faith.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:8

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Shiplap and Simplicity


Sometimes the answer we need most is not the grandiose one, but the small, simple one.

Three weeks ago today, I hit rock-bottom emotionally.  We had just passed a year on our little journey into the unknown, and while many answers had been given, we were still playing the “waiting” game.  We had been in Oklahoma since Easter.  We had found an incredible church, were enjoying time as a family and with our extended family here, but a job was still proving elusive.

I played the Linked-In game, the Monster job search game, the send-out-your-resume’ game, but nothing seemed to be working.  The hardest rejection came not from a person, but from the Lord.  The interview process for what seemed like a “God-thing” job was going so well, but then the Lord quite clearly told me “No…sit, wait, and heal.”

And the months went by.

Which brings us to three Saturdays ago.  Amanda and I were sitting on my sister’s back porch enjoying our morning cup of coffee and reading our Bibles (this has become a staple for us this summer, and are again so very thankful to my sister and brother-in-law for putting our crew up and encouraging us to continue to seek the Lord).  As we talked about what we were reading, and what was going on in our lives, something broke in me.  I don’t know what it was, but something Amanda said burst the dam within, and the tears began to roll.  I felt completely overwhelmed, completely inept, completely…broken.

“Why did You bring us here, Lord?! Why are you keeping me from getting a job?!  Why aren’t the answers we sought forthcoming?  Why has the Word seem to dry up like the Mojave Desert of late?  Could You give us something, anything…some clue as to what to do next?!!”

There was no answer, save for the touch of my wife’s hand on my shoulder, and her head laid against mine.  We sat there for a bit, not saying anything.

And then we got up.  Isn’t that how it always is?  Life happens.  Things to do, places to go, people to see.  Sometimes, the only option available is to get up and face whatever the day holds, right?

Well, this day held coffee with some good friends.  In the midst of this crazy season of change, one thing I’ve become ever-so-thankful for is the precious gift of fellowship with friends and family.  On this particular day, we were meeting a couple that we had NC-ties to in a little town north of Oklahoma City.  As we sat huddled over our respective cups of coffee (really good coffee, btw), I shared how things were going for us.

We then drove out to check on their progress on the home they’re building outside of town.  As we walked around, my friend shared how his work was keeping him too busy to get much done on the house, since they’re doing as much of the work as possible on their own.  He then asked me a question that hit me right between the eyes:

“Would you be willing to come out and do some of the work?”

WHAT?  Did he just ask what I thought he asked?  Did he just offer me a job?  Wait…Lord, can I take this one?  Is it ok? And while I didn’t hear an audible voice, I felt the gentle release that, yes, this was ok to take.  I told him I would be glad to help them out in any way I could!

When we got back in the car to drive home, Amanda said, “Matt, I prayed this morning that the Lord would give you something today to lift your head.”  Boy, did He ever.  To say I was overjoyed would be a considerable understatement.  For the first time in 9 months, I would be working again.

Many days, I’d find myself talking to God about how I needed a job to provide for my family, only to hear the still-small-voice say “You don’t provide for them…I do…sometimes I just use you as the means.”

And while this type of work wasn’t what I had in mind at this stage in life, I can tell you it is exactly what I needed at exactly the right time.

Exactly.

That first week back, it took the kids a few days to adjust to dad being gone all day.  Over the past 9 months I’ve been there every morning when they got up, and could spend pretty much every day with them.  My boy, in particular, wasn’t sure how to handle the  change at first.  However, by the end of that first week, Amanda told me it felt like as close as we’d come to normal in a long time.  And making a bank deposit instead of a withdrawal for the first time in a long while wasn’t too bad either.

For me, there was an incredible sense of joy in just being able to feel useful again.  I remember watching some friends go through being unemployed over the years, and while I always felt for them, I couldn’t really grasp what they were dealing with.  I can now.  For a man, there is a need to work, to do something, to feel like you’re useful.

Before you get on me about being useful at home to my family, trust me, I’m thankful for that opportunity!  I’m not talking about getting my identity from my job (that’s another post for another day), but rather the feeling that comes from an honest day’s work, the feeling of being bone tired at the end of a long, hot day…but knowing you did something with that day.

Most days, I was cutting and putting up shiplap, that “Fixer Upper” staple that my friends were using in lieu of sheetrock in their new home.  I’m dreaming in shiplap right now, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of measuring, cutting, and nailing up piece after piece.  As I finished each room or section, it felt good to go “I did that.”

It felt really good.

Now many of you may read this and be unimpressed.  Some may even scoff at it a little.  “A former pastor now doing carpentry work?  Hmmmmm…he must have missed it.”  I must admit, I came out here with sights aimed higher than being self-employed doing carpentry, but as we’ve said through this entire endeavor, God’s ways are not our ways.

He has told me, repeatedly, to sit, wait and heal.  In many ways, I believe the past nine months have been a sabbath year for me (it would have been my seventh year on staff at church back in NC).  The Lord took me out, sat me down, gave me rest and time with my family…all things that were prayers I found myself writing in my journal over the previous year.  God just didn’t answer them in the way I pictured:  no job, no home, dependent on His provision and the hospitality of family.

He has now allowed me the opportunity to work, and He has begun to open other doors in the same field, too.  The tendency for me is to project this out to “THE job” and put all my eggs in this basket, and He hasn’t told me that.  All I know is it’s what I’m to do now…but tomorrow, a week, a month or two away?  Only He knows.  Like everything on this journey, this is the next step for us right now.

And this is a baby step in the long march back to “normal.”

19 Years

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19 year ago today, Amanda and I were married.

19 years…I’ll spare you every time cliche’ in the book, but it truly does go by fast.  Incredibly, blurringly fast.

Year #19 has been one of the toughest but wonderful years we’ve experienced.  From a year ago to today, pretty much every aspect of our lives has changed.  There has been the pain of leaving behind the life and friends we had built over the previous 18-plus years as we set out on a new adventure (one that we were not expecting AT ALL).  It has been a year of cutting away, both in the outward and the inward.  But in the midst of the cutting away, there has also been joy, healing and restoration.

Strange how God works sometimes.

I can’t even begin to put down enough words or phrases to explain what Amanda means to me.  I am so very thankful for my wife.  As the years have gone on, she has continued to amaze me.  She is an amazing woman.  She loves Jesus, loves His Word.  She loves my kids and pours into them, even on the tough days.  She becomes more beautiful to me with each passing day, and I love her more than I could ever say.

19 years…we’ve been through a lot of good, some bad (much of which was my fault).  We came through the incredible pain of losing of two babies, but also we’ve experienced the supreme joy of our three amazing kids.  We’ve gotten through the hurt of hidden sin (also me) and felt the healing balm of restoration…not easily gotten, but oh-so-precious.

We have poured sweat equity into 4 houses over the years, seen them become “home” for our growing family, and then cried as we’ve walked out the doors to the next thing.  Never has that been as tough as the last one, leaving the only home all 5 of us have shared for…well, for what only God knows is next.

We’ve made many friends over the years as we’ve moved.  Some relationships stay strong, others fade for a while, only to be rekindled again with time and chance.  We have endured, up to this year, only one church change, quite a few job changes, but when you move 1200 miles away, all of those take on a whole new level of starting over.

Everything has changed.

And yet, through it all, I’ve had this amazing woman by my side.  The only constant in our marriage has been Jesus, and each other.

Thankful doesn’t really begin to say how I feel.  We were united on July 18th, 1998, at 3pm in the afternoon.  While my best-man, my brother Ted, sweated and huffed and puffed at the length of the ceremony and the heat in the church, my father-in-law walked us through our vows and pronounced us man and wife, united as one before God and all those witnesses.

Two made one.

And yet, like the process of sanctification that begins when Jesus saves us and moves toward completion slowly, with each passing day, on that afternoon we were united as one in God’s sight, but the process of becoming truly united was just beginning.  It’s still going, 19 years later.  I think that’s why so many marriages experience such stress and pain in the initial years, because it’s the dying of two selves in their union as one.  Each one must take the lower place to love and serve the other, subduing our own selfish desires in order to help the other.

The way up is down.  The way to unity is through becoming less, thinking more of your bride than you do of yourself.  Paul said it in Ephesians 5:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her.” 

That don’t happen overnight.  It takes time, and a daily dying to self.

My wife has taught me so much about that.

It’s a journey…and on our current leg, we’ve experienced a new closeness that only comes from the trial.  The unity continues to be made reality.

19 years.  Blessed.  Thankful.  Joyful.

Humbled.

I love you, Amanda…more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow.

Y.A.M.S.

Straining to See


(This is another post by my amazing wife as she shares her thoughts on the journey we’re on.  Once again, I am so thankful for her willingness to step into this and open her heart up)

I’ve been in complete denial.

You see, just about eleven months ago I had one of those milestone birthdays.  Yep, the big 4-0!!!  Although, I think my denial started prior to that birthday, it only intensified once it rolled around.  At first, I blamed it on poor lighting, microscopic print or an eyelash in my eye, but no matter how hard I strained or squinted, the letters and words on the page would NOT snap into focus.

Even though I’ve worn contacts since high school my suspicions were confirmed after a recent  routine eye exam:  it was time for a pair of “readers”.  Blegh!  Already?  I thought I had at least a few more years to go!  So over the last couple of weeks I’ve been adjusting to this new accessory of sorts.  I’m armed and ready with several pair, stashed in various spots, I can pull out in a moments notice in order to see clearly!

This minor little thing has been only one of the many adjustments and changes over the last year.  Boy, there’s been so many!  Some big, some small.  Lots of ups and lots of downs.  It’s been a crazy ride!  And to be honest, I’m tired.  I’m ready for the ride to be over.  We all are.  I read it on the pages of my journal, I see it on Matt’s face and I hear it in my kiddo’s voices.

I told a dear friend the other day, as much as I’m grateful for God’s Word and the confirmation and encouragement it brings, I find myself feeling like it’s “all talk and no action”.  (And yes, I’ve taken that complaint to God, too!)  We continue to seek, pray and wait and nothing is happening.  Sure, it’s been all the right verses at all the right times but I want to SEE something!  Show… me… the ACTION!  I want something tangible.

We’ve taken steps of faith.  We’ve tried to follow His leading and obey His call.  We left when He said “go”.  So, now what?  “When, Lord?  When will all the pieces start to fall into place?  You do remember that there’s the matter of a job, a house, and a life to settle into, right?”

And then one day last week, He led me to Psalm 119, verses 81-82 (NLT):

“I’m worn out from waiting for Your rescue, 

but I have put my hope in Your word.  

My eyes are straining to see Your promises come true.

When will You comfort me?”

Oh My Goodness!!!  Yes, yes, yes!  I’m worn out.  I’m straining to see Your plans unfold, Lord!  The plans You have for me and my family.  Just as I strained to see those words on the page without my readers I’m desperately looking for the next step.  Left or right?  But I feel like everything is so out of focus right now.  No matter how hard I try to make sense of it all or will things into motion, everything continues to be hazy and fuzzy without a clear answer in sight.  And yet a couple days later, He reminded me in John 20 that in His timing all WILL be seen.

The passage tells us it was the Sunday after Jesus had been crucified and died a horrible, brutal death.  His disciples, undeniably, were confused, full of doubts, grieving, and striving to understand what they had just experienced.  It’s in the midst of all their emotions God allows them to see the tangible.

They saw… the stone rolled away.

They saw… the empty tomb.

They saw… the linen wrappings and the folded head cloth.

They saw… the two angels.

They saw… the one they thought was a gardener.

They… saw… JESUS!

Just a few days ago He was dead yet there He was living and breathing!  He had conquered death and escaped it’s grip to offer them a chance to see and believe!  He even made an appearance to doubting Thomas, the one who would not believe unless he saw the nail scarred hands and pierced side.  Jesus let Thomas see the tangible and urged him to be faithless no more.  Just believe!  In fact, in that moment He gave a promise to those of us who didn’t physically see that day.  “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20: 29).

It was then in my Thomas-like doubt and confusion He came renewing and filling me with a fresh hope.  Jesus reminded me in the midst of all my straining to see, He is my tangible!  He knows our needs and even our wants and His plan will be revealed in due time.  His time.

I’m not guaranteed an answer to every question I pose and I may not even understand it all this side of eternity, but I know The One who does, and I can trust Him.

As we prepared to take Communion at church on Sunday, I couldn’t help but smile as our pastor invited the congregation to “feast on the tangible”.  The bread and the wine representing His body and blood.  Ordinary elements so simple yet so profound.  Something right in front of my eyes to remind me/us what He did, giving strength and power to keep going on.  If He loves us so much to lay down His life and then raise it up again, surely He can light the path before us and set it all into motion at the right time.

And I think in my straining to see, He’s giving me the grace to begin to see clearly.

Some Coffee, Dr. Stanley, and the Goodness of God

“Charles Stanley…you know who he is, right?”

I smiled at the gentleman addressing my friend and me at Starbucks.  He was probably in his early 70s, had a large study Bible in his hand, and I guess he figured two “young” dudes like us might not know the legendary preacher from Georgia was.

“Yessir, I know who he is” my friend said, at which time the man turned and looked straight at me and said, “Charles Stanley said ‘When God’s says wait, it’s because He’s got something better coming.’ ”

I almost laughed out loud, as did my friend.  We had just been talking about the craziness of my life right now, and how God had been doing some crazy things to confirm He was in control.  This gentlemen had obviously seen my friend in the coffee shop before, and came by to say hello.  Then he dropped the Stanley-bomb on us.

“When God says wait, it’s because He’s got something better coming.”

I don’t know if those are Dr. Stanley’s exact words or not, and that’s not really the point.  What I do know is they were words the Lord meant for me that morning.  In many ways, and through many people, He has been quietly reassuring me that He has this, and us, and that I just need to trust Him.

If you’ve been following along with us on this adventure, you’re probably reading this and going “Matt…you haven’t learned THAT lesson by now?!!”

Well…evidently not.  I’m a tad hard headed.  And I’m thankful that when my hard-headedness rises up to full stature, Jesus has such a kind and loving way of meeting me where I am and reminding me, yet again, of His goodness.

Here is a snippet of some of the things the Lord has done the last few weeks:

  • I was sitting on the porch one morning, drinking my coffee (have you noticed the common denominator of coffee in most of these posts????) and praying.  Instead of communion with God and quietly trusting Him, my mind was filling with concerns, worries, and what jobs I need to be applying for today when a still, small voice whispers “Trust Me…I’ve got this.”  I stopped and sat for a moment…and then started to spout out my “but what about” when, again, that still, small voice whispers “Trust Me…I’ve got this.”
  • Three times in the last ten days, the Lord has drawn my attention to Isaiah 30:18-21.  Once, in my devotions.  Then the same day, a text from a good friend with a picture of those very verses.  Then this week, my sisters shared with me that she was reading through that chapter, and when she did,  thought of us.  What are those words, you ask?  “Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.  For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” 
  • Friday night, I received an email from a friend back in NC who wanted to share his own journey with us.  Reading his story brought tears to my eyes, as it is the same story as ours, when you get right down to it: waiting on the Lord.  In my friends words, as he was waiting on the Lord to guide his decisions about work and family, the Lord reassured him that, “When I step in, you will know it.”  He shared with me that “When He steps in, you, and all of us who have been waiting, are going to know it.”  That couldn’t have come at a better time.
  • And then there was the day that some of the leaders of our church here in OKC prayed over me, and for our family.  The Lord put words on their hearts and in their mouths that only He would know, things that only the Holy Spirit could reveal to them, and thus striking a deep chord within me that resonated on and on: “I’ve got this, Matt…trust me.”

And if that wasn’t enough, for the last three weeks we have prayed a prayer from Lamentations 3:21-26:

My soul still remembers and sinks within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.

But one of the smallest, yet coolest ways the Lord reminded me that He has us this week was the morning He brought me back to Isaiah 41:10, and to a little note in my margin that reads “10-7-16  Thank You Lord“.  You see, that was the day last fall that I awoke early to find my wife’s side of the bed empty.  I went downstairs where she was sitting in “my” chair, curled up under a blanket, writing in her journal.  This was a week or so after “The Push“, but we hadn’t taken any steps yet.  I was afraid of what the “next step” would be, as I knew it would require my stepping down from ministry and from my job.

Amanda looked up at me that morning, tears in her eyes, and said “Matt, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”  Remember, this journey had started earlier in the year, and we had been through a LOT of waiting and praying by this point, coupled with a lot of clear signs that we were about to go through some major changes.  It was weighing on both of us, but especially my wife.

That morning, I knelt beside her, grabbed her hand, and prayed.  I pulled a Gideon, putting out a fleece, as it were, asking the Lord that, if I was supposed to go and talk to our senior pastor, I needed Him to make it absolutely clear.  Well, long story a little shorter:  I arrived at church for our staff meeting, and a few minutes in our pastor looks at all of us and says, “Listen, if the Lord is moving any of you in a different direction, please come and talk to me about it.  I want to help.”

Uhhhhhhhh…we got through the meeting, I called my wife and shared with her, and then I opened my Bible to read in Isaiah 41.  These words leapt off the page and into my heart:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you.  Yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

And from there, this journey began, and as I sat at my sister’s table this week and read those words again, I smiled.

 “Wait…I’ve got something better.”  

 “Trust me…I’ve got this.”

“When I move, you’ll know it.”

Ok, Lord…ok…my thick head is starting to get it.  You’ve got it.  I trust You, because I know You’re good, and I know You love us.  You’ve reminded me again and again, just this week.

Against the Wind


If you’ve ever visited Oklahoma, chances are one thing stood out above all the rest long beyond your time here:  the wind.  Forever memorialized in the title song from the play “Oklahoma”, the wind truly comes “whipping down the plains.” More than a quaint line in a play, the wind is your constant companion, or nemesis, depending on your point of view (or style of haircut).

This morning I went for a run, and the wind was blowing a breezy 25-35 mph.  I know that may not seem that fast to many, especially if your only comparison is the guy you got stuck behind on the way to work.  Let me assure you, when you’re trying to run against wind that strong, it becomes a formidable foe.

I noticed something as I navigated the “breeze” this morning:  when I was running south, into the wind, I had to work a lot harder than when I turned north, and the wind was suddenly at my back.  I was going the same speed, but my effort going into the wind was much greater than running with the wind.

The wind was the same; it didn’t change.  My perspective of it changed, but the wind was the same, constantly blowing, constantly pushing against me.  The only thing that changed was the direction I was going in.  I was appreciative of the wind when I headed north, but was pretty fed up with it when I turned south.

Which got me thinking about life, and specifically about this journey we’re on.  Amanda and I  shared last week the struggles we are going through on this journey, the ways in which we can be “up” one day and “down” the next.  Honestly,  at times we start to doubt and wonder where God is in all this, especially when things aren’t so clear and we seem to be running against the wind, as it were.

And yet, the same God Who so clearly called us out, told us to go, and brought us to Oklahoma is the same God who is, once again, telling us wait, trust, be patient.  When the way is clear and things are going well, I’m quick to praise God and trust, but when the wind shifts, the way is harder, and I can’t see the next step, that praise can quickly turn to grumbling, complaining, and doubting.

The tough times are in His hands just as much as the “easy” ones, yet we are so quick to forget it! How quick we are to question the Master’s intent when things become hard!  The same God that we love to praise when He does something awesome is the same God that we begin to doubt when things don’t turn out like we expect, or when the way doesn’t seem as clear as it once did.

Or worse yet, when times get tough, we chalk it up to Satan working against us.  We long for the way things once were, for things to be easier, for the wind to be at our backs,  when in reality the Lord is using the situation to strengthen and grow us.  Maybe, just maybe, the Lord is using a hard thing, a tough road, a time of waiting, a time where the wind is blowing right in our faces, to cause us to press into Him, to trust His provision, His leading, His plan.

Let me be clear, I’m not discounting the reality of spiritual warfare.  Satan wants to destroy us, to steal our joy in Christ, to harm everything we know and love, but what the enemy of our souls means for evil, God means for good (see Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).  We need to remember the overarching point of the book of Job:  God is in sovereign control, even when we don’t understand what’s going on.

(Side note: let me be clear that I’m not equating the journey we’re on to what you may be facing.  I would never intend to do that!  I know that there are many reading this blog facing far tougher and far more daunting circumstances that we are.  My hope is that the words found here are as encouraging to you where you are as they have been to my soul)

The problem is not with God, the problem is with my perspective of God.  The reality is He doesn’t change.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He is love, and He proved that love in sending His Son to take the wrath that was rightly due to us.  In our place, Jesus stood condemned, for love of us!  He became our sin so we could become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  This is the gospel truth, and I know it…but the trouble is I forget it.  I begin to doubt it, to doubt Him, to doubt His goodness, His love…to doubt if I really heard Him right in all this.

God is using this “wind”, this season, to lovingly remind me of the Gospel, and my deep need for it. He reminds me of His love, and asks why I doubt just because the wind suddenly got tough.  If He gave only His Son to make my dead self come alive, how will He not keep me upright in the storm.  If Jesus loved me enough to take my place, to become my sin, why do I think He will suddenly up and forsake me?  If the Holy Spirit stoops to dwell within me, fleshy and weak as I am, why do I doubt He is capable of guiding every detail of our lives? After all, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

There are parts of this story that we’ve shared openly, parts we’ve shared with only a few, and others that we keep to ourselves.  Suffice it to say that there have been times when an easier road was presented to us, at least an easier road from our perspective.  There have been opportunities that pulled at our heart strings, especially the desire to stay close to friends and family in NC, but to which the Lord clearly said “no.”  There have been places we’ve visited that ticked every box for us in terms of our personal desires and interests, standard of living, housing, etc.  And God has said “no.”

Sometimes, no is easier to take than others.  Sometimes, that “no” closes a road that would have, according to our hearts, been perfect.  There have been times when it would have seemed like the wind was at our backs, easy sailing ahead, and yet, we’ve known if we took those roads, we’d be ignoring the heart of the Father toward us.  In those moments, we had to lean back on the Gospel, lean on the truth’s of His Word, lean on His love and His understanding, because we don’t understand, and simply say, with Jesus, “Not my will, but Your’s be done.”

And here’s an even greater truth that is so very hard for my American, Westernized Christian self to grapple with:  He doesn’t promise that the sailing will always be easy.  In fact, He said the opposite (In this world, you WILL have trouble).  Yet in the next few words He gives us incredible hope and joy to lean on in the midst of trouble:

“Take heart…I have overcome the world.” 

This journey is far more about us being made like Jesus, of us allowing our lives to be used for His glory and purpose, than about our comfort, our desires, our ideas of how things should be.  It’s about realizing how the Gospel bears on all of our lives, not just our eternities.  Paul said “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

This life isn’t mine to live.  It’s His, but all of Scripture and all of my life tell me I can trust Him with it, even when the wind is blowing hard in my face.

 

Bitter Tears…and a Foul Frozen Drink


(This is another wonderful post by my wife, giving her thoughts on the latest stage of this journey we’re on.  Every time she takes the leap to shares her heart, which is not an easy leap for her, my love and admiration for this amazing woman grows.  So thankful for her, and for her steadfast faithfulness on this journey)

Last Tuesday, they took away my driver’s license.  And it ALL went down hill from there.  Who  knew I’d be on the verge of a big ol’ ugly cry right there in the middle of the tag agency office?  But that’s exactly what happened when I asked to keep my North Carolina license for sentimental reasons.  Apparently they have to mail the license back to NC.  For what?  I have no earthly idea!  But since I could feel the lump swelling in my throat and the water pooling in my eyes I knew it would be best not to ask any questions, just take the Oklahoma license and get out as fast as I could!

As silly as it sounds it was just another stripping away of the old, more grieving over the way things were and the reality of still so much uncertainty.  As the week progressed it was much more of the same:  strip, grieve, uncertainty …. and repeat.  It was a tough, tough week.  I struggled to get out of bed (who am I kidding?  I struggle to get out of bed every morning.  I love my sleep!!!  But even more so last week).  I felt like all I could do was weep.  Ugly cries for days.  Therefore I “hibernated” quite a bit last week.  There seemed to be a never ending fountain of tears.  Bitter, bitter tears.  And as I cried out to The Lord through my doubts, anger and fears begging for some type of encouragement, relief, answers….He was there.  Even when it felt like He was gone.

Painfully, I struggled to keep trekking through my reading plan and my time in The Word each day but looking back over the last week I see how He graciously gave me examples of others who had “bitterly wept” before The Lord.  Letting me know I’m not alone in my weeping.  Isn’t that just like God?  Some of the similarities in these passages were certainty not lost on me.

  • Judges 20:18- 21:3  The Israelites are in the middle of a civil war with their family, the Benjaminites.  Time and time again they seek God for direction (in Bethel, mind you) “weeping loudly and bitterly” in the presence of The Lord over their defeat and loss.
  • Ruth 1:3-21 In this passage, Naomi is so bitter and discouraged that she’s asking to be called by another name.  “Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me” (vs. 20).  No, I’m not to the point of asking for a new name but it has been a long, hard year and I wonder with each passing day how much more can we take?
  • 1 Samuel 1:9-11 Hannah is in such “deep anguish crying bitterly” to The Lord for a baby.  She’s so distraught in her prayer that Eli, the priest, thinks she’s drunk!  I’ve certainty prayed my fair share of desperate prayers lately.  Praying for things we need and want, all the while, after so many months of waiting, doubts flood my mind and I start to question everything.

Funny enough, after He gave me all these “spiritual” examples He brought to mind an experience my daughter and I had a couple weeks prior.  She and I were some of the suckers who bought into the hype and tried the horrid, wretched Unicorn Frappuccino.  Yep.  Suckers.  It was dubbed as being “the flavor-changing, coloring-changing, totally not-made-up” magical drink.  We took one sip of the sour, bitter concoction and immediately needed something else to get the taste out of our mouths!  Ahhhh…..lightbulb!!!

After a week of tasting many bitter tears, through the recollection of something ordinary and normal He was inviting me to feast on Him and His goodness.  I needed to “cleanse my palette” so to speak.  The words of Psalm 34:8 kept echoing in my mind… “taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him”.  How ironic is it that He’s called the “Bread of Life” and the “Living Water”?  He’s nourishment for our souls, strength for our bodies, and the only real thing that will truly satisfy.

There are still so many questions unanswered and so much uncertainty about this journey that we’re on, but one thing is for sure:  The Lord is using the ministry of Frontline Church in OKC to breathe life into our weary souls.   As we went to church Sunday morning, Matt and I were both still pretty beat up from our emotional week.   It was there, that morning, that Jesus came to us!  He met us right where we were – in our broken, weary, desperate state.   He was inviting us to enjoy the Bread and drink the Water.  From the beginning to the end of service, we both bawled like babies.  This time the tears weren’t bitter, instead they were cleansing, repentant, and peace-filled.

There is no one or nothing like Jesus!!!  Over the last year He’s stirred an even greater passion in my heart for His Word which I’m so thankful for!  It truly is living and breathing, sharper than any two edged sword.  But as precious and sweet as The Word is to me, Jesus is all the more sweeter!  He’s so faithful to come near when we ask.  He comes close, wraps His arms around us and invites us to bask in His goodness.

And that’s anything but bitter!