What does it mean to be Christian? If you got down to what it really means, cleared the slate and focused on your most essential doctrines, what are the important tenants of your faith? And who has the authority to decide such things for the church? These days, most of us don't think about those kinds of questions much. We might ponder aspects of it or debate the finer points, but by and large, the master principles were settled hundreds of years ago — precipitated by Martin Luther 500 years ago today.
"Many years ago, five missionaries ventured out to share the Good News of Jesus with a vicious tribe of people. Their plane was to fly into a remote area where tribesmen had not heard of the love of Jesus and to build relationships with the tribesmen. Yet when their plane landed on the remote river setting, things went terribly wrong." Perhaps this story is familiar to you. The words, penned by Tricia Goyer in her book Balanced: Finding Center as a Work-at-Home Mom, speak of Operation Auca in 1956. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian wanted to tell the Huaorani people of Ecuador about Jesus. Yet they were slaughtered by tribesmen before the missionaries got the first words of love out. How can something like this be part of God's best plan?
It was one of those seasons in life when God gets quiet. I wanted reassurance that I was on the right path. When that didn't come, I sought more information, guidance on the next steps might be and what the future could look like. I craved clarity. Exactness. God's audible word. I heard . . . nothing. Sigh. Most of us understand that God is still working for us and around us even if He's not talking to us at the moment. But in that moment, His silence can be tough to endure. What do we do to make it through with our faith intact or stronger than it was before? We remember. We look back to what God was doing behind the scenes when He got quiet before.
Strongholds. If you think of them like a high-security prison, the four walls surrounding the person encased within would be fear, shame, powerlessness, and hopelessness. If you would have asked me last month what the biggest, most fortified walls in my strongholds are, I would have easily said fear and powerlessness. I don't make it much of a secret that I battle fear, and powerlessness is like a first cousin working to keep me subservient to fear. They held me in such tight bondage for more than thirty years that I now actively fight them when I see their evidence in my life. I don't do this perfectly, and sometimes I hesitate to step into battle with it. But most of the time, they don't win. Shame, on the other hand, stood silently by. It is still a suppressing force around me, but it went about its work much more quietly than fear. Much more stealthily than powerlessness. It hid in the shadows, casting its tentacles in subtle ways I dismissed and overlooked because the fight with fear was more prominent. Perhaps you easily see shame all around you, or perhaps, like me, its presence is more subdued. In either case, as speaker and author Christine Caine says, it's not the life God has for us. Keep reading to see my review of her book Unashamed: Drop Your Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny.
My heart sank as I sat across a coffee shop table listening to a friend talk about her latest experience with church. Another set of flawed humans casting judgment based on another set of human traditions, and my friend was found wanting. In my travels all over America, I've seen a lot. Words casually used in one state are curse words in another. Different places have different rules for dancing, drinking, and playing card games. Even blue jeans or simple pants can cause a stir. While many Christians will readily admit that these kinds of topics are not critical elements of salvation, we can't blindly ignore them altogether. They cause problems among us, so we must wrestle with what the Bible says.
I have skeletons. I don't specifically talk about a lot of them, but it's not because they are hidden away in the proverbial closet. When God brings a lady to me that would benefit from hearing part of my story, I openly share those moments when life sucker punched me or I chose to act in a way that wasn't God's best. This is not something that came easily to me, and truthfully I still hesitate before I confess my failures and shortcomings. No one likes to look foolish. None of us wants to be thought of as less than. And I certainly don't jump at the chance to admit how out of control I sometimes get. So, what is the point of sharing? And how can we do so in a manner that glorifies God even when the choices we made do not?
Does God answer prayer? Most of us don't struggle with that question too much. Hmmm. Maybe we don't struggle with that question quite enough. Most of my life, I've heard well-meaning Christians spout that God answers prayers in one of three ways: Yes, no, or not yet. That sounds good. It even sounds logical. But, is it biblical? And how much should this really matter to us anyway?
Nine years, nine months, and five days. That’s how long my husband logged in as an active-duty airman before his medical retirement. Nine years, nine months, and five days of all the uncertainty and fluctuations that military life brings. And then a fresh uncertainty took hold: Medical Retirement. We could move wherever we wanted to move, but we would have to do it ourselves or pay someone to do it. We could pick whatever job we wanted to go after, at least as soon as our DD Form 214 was in hand. Military service and medical retirement gave my husband an advantage in the hiring process for federal jobs, but did we really want to stay tied to the Department of Defense? Health insurance. Survivor benefits. Life insurance. Commissary and exchange privileges. GI Bill benefits. We had so many new rules to learn. Job-search strategies. Resume writing. Interview protocols. Salary negotiation. My husband had so many new skills to gain. When retirement looms, where do you start?
I try to have lunch or coffee with two or three different friends every month. I love these quiet times together, catching up on each other's lives without the distractions of responsibility around us. At one of these lunches recently, I sat down with a friend and mentor. As we quietly talked, she told me the revelation God had shown her. It was one of those earth-shattering, mind-changing realizations that take your breath away for a moment as you see the pervasiveness of a tiny lie you'd grabbed hold of. And in that moment, I realized how I too had grabbed hold of this lie and let it invade my life. I suspect you might also find this lie hiding out in your heart and mind. When I asked, this friend graciously agreed to write it out so that I could share it with you. I wanted you to hear it in her words without any commentary I might add. I pray that all of us would cease hiding in the baggage.
A balanced life. It's a common mantra in our world today, with books, television shows and psychologists all proclaiming that we must find balance. Work-Life balance. Family time and personal time balance. Physical, spiritual, and emotional balance. And while I understand the precepts and the health that so many are trying to promote, I always struggled a bit within their spouted parameters. While what they say sounds good, is it truly what God wants for me? Is balance biblical?