When You Hit the Wall

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith~ Hebrew 12:1-2

 There are a number of terms for it, some of them colorful. Sometimes it’s called “throwing in the towel” or “flaking out.” I generally refer to it as “calling it. ”The military calls it “deserting your post”, my kids call it “canning” and the English call it “bunking off”. I will not repeat the phrase my Father had for it; all you need to know is that it’s not the least bit appropriate.

 Runners call it “hitting the wall.” I am partial to that particular expression because “hitting the wall” is about more than quitting. Hitting the wall is a moment in a race that appears to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the runner is overcome with negative thoughts and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Every muscle begs for mercy. The runner longs to just give up and go home.

 Hitting the wall happens for a number of reasons, some completely outside the runner’s control. Poor weather conditions, outside distractions, fatigue, illness or lack of proper training for that particular race can cause even the most seasoned athlete to long to bow out of the race and hit the nearest Five Guys. Whatever the cause, the bottom-line is simple. When a runner hits the wall, they have a choice to make. Do they give-up and go home or do they dig deep and muster the strength to finish the race?

 Runners are not the only ones faced with that choice.

At some point in the Christian life, every follower of Jesus hits a spiritual wall: a dark and ugly fork in the road where the walk of faith simply feels too hard and not worth pursuing. Deep down inside they don’t know if they can or even want to keep going. No Christian wants to admit they’ve hit the wall but everyone does at some point.

 Hitting the spiritual wall can come as a result of deep grief or profound personal loss. Sometimes it comes after a long period of remaining faithful in the face of what feels like endless disappointment. Mistreatment by other Christians can cause even the most mature believer to hit the wall. Other times, it’s a result of relentless attacks from the enemy. It can happen because of lack of attention to our spiritual life. Sometimes it’s a result of chronic overwork or discouragement.

 The causes matter, but not nearly as much as our response.

 There are two common responses to hitting the wall. The first is to get angry and run as far from God as possible. This reaction is born out of the belief that God could have and should have prevented whatever circumstances led to our confusion and misery. This all-too common reaction makes sense on a human level. However, it inevitably leads to spiritual disaster and is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants us to do.

 The healthy response to the hopelessness that occurs when we hit the wall is to run towards God. Running towards God begins with an honest conversation. We need to talk to Him about our situation and our feelings about it. This can be scary, many believers balk at the notion of being honest with God. It feels sinful and wrong to admit our anger and confusion out loud. Being real with God isn’t something we do for God. God already knows exactly what we think and how we feel (Hebrews 4:12). We get real with God for our own good, to keep from getting stuck in bitterness.

 Once we talk things out with God, it is time for an evaluation of our life and attitudes. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions:

 Is there sin we need to repent of (Acts 3:19)?

Are we spending time in prayer and reading the Bible (Hebrews 2:2-4)?

Are we isolating ourselves from other Christians (Hebrews 10:25)?

Are we blaming God for the devil’s work (Luke 22:31)?

Are we praising Him in spite of our circumstances (Psalm 22)?

Are we believing God will work out His plan for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28)?

Are we walking in faith or fear (Isaiah 41:10)?

 Once any necessary repenting is done, it’s time to trust. Trust that God’s love for you has not changed or faded. Trust that He is still on your side. Trust that this miserable, awful trial you are enduring will make you wiser, more compassionate and better able to serve. Most importantly, trust that God is good and believe that better days are right around the corner.

Because they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fragile and Sometimes Fleeting Power of Influence

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil~ Ephesians 5:15-16

 Unless you have spent the last week on another planet, you have likely heard that Josh Duggar reality television star and former spokesman for the Family Research Council has confessed to something that is best defined as serial infidelity.

 Mr. Duggar was forced to own up to his actions when a security breach revealed he was a longtime member of the website Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is a business created for the singular and skeezy purpose of facilitating adulterous affairs. The hacker is believed by many to be a bitter spouse whose assumed domestic tranquility was shattered by Ashley Madison. I was reminded as this little narrative unfolded that God is still in the business of seeing to it that folks reap what they sow.

 My initial response to the scandal was sorrow. I was heartbroken to learn that yet another high-profile Christian leader was caught living a life of almost absurd duplicity. Adultery is a terrible sin. Signing up for membership with a website that exists for the purpose of helping people commit adultery is the most inexcusable form of premeditated sin there is. Josh Duggar compounded his many sins by falsely presenting himself to the world as a paragon of Christian virtue and an authority on traditional family values while sleeping with strangers.

 This is a tragic situation. I do not know, nor am I fit to judge the state of Josh Duggar’s heart or the condition of his soul. I refuse to go there.

 What I do know is that that Josh Duggar was blessed with an abundance of the most valuable gift any Christian can be given: influence. He squandered his influence in a series of astonishingly bad choices that has wrecked devastation in some obvious and not so obvious ways.  

 There are countless victims caught in this foul mess. My heart goes out to his wife. That poor woman is caught in the unenviable position of having no really great choices at this point. Whatever she chooses to do will be tough and painful. It will also be judged as incorrect by a whole lot of people who have never walked in her shoes.

 Then there are his Mom and Dad. Whatever missteps they may have made as parents, no one really deserves the level of parental humiliation they are experiencing. The folks at Family Research Council have their own set of issues thanks to Josh Duggar. They gave a kid a job and now they are left to dig themselves out of what can only be described as a public relations nightmare.

 Then there are the not-so-innocent victims in this mess. It is difficult to muster compassion for the women Josh Duggar had sex with. Nonetheless, they are human beings made in the image of God with eternal souls. It is unlikely any of those women will repent and turn to Jesus after one of God’s spokespersons behaved in such a hypocritical and ungentlemanly fashion.

 Perhaps the most hapless victim in this whole ugly mess is the average Christian who is just doing his or her level best to serve God, bless others and live a righteous life. Being salt and light in this world just got a whole lot harder for these folks. All thanks to the actions of one person.

 The Bible depicts Christians as a body (1st Corinthians 12:27). This means that essentially Christians of all types are a single unit made up of many parts (people). Because Christians are, for all intents and purposes, a single entity, when one Christian sins it makes all Christians look bad. Christians look really bad right now.

 Sadly, Josh Duggar is not the first believer in recent years to fail morally. He is one of many on a long list of Christians whose behavior has reflected badly on Jesus and other Christians. I do not know what specifics led to Josh Duggar’s downfall. His upbringing, easy access to pornography, the declining culture and lack of personal accountability have all been mentioned as possible contributors.

 I suspect the real issue is twofold. First, he got into the in the routine of concentrating most of his spiritual attention on outward appearances and behaviors rather than inward thoughts and attitudes (Matthew 23:25). It is also possible that Josh Duggar bought into the popular but erroneous notion that because God forgives sin, sin is without actual consequences for a Christian.

 Few are blessed with the kind of opportunities to impact the world that Josh Duggar was given. However, every Christian has spiritual influence over someone. We can lose that influence in the span of one bad choice when we forget that one consequence of sin is loss of positive influence. If we want to keep our influence, we have to be willing to give us much attention to inner thoughts and attitudes as we do to outward appearances, and have the guts to tell ourselves “no” sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Season of Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead~ 1st Peter 1:3

 I am not a heathen. Really, I’m not.

 I am a Christian and I genuinely love Jesus. I am far from perfect and I gave up long ago pretending that I have life all figured out. That said, I do take the practice of my faith seriously. I read the Bible. I believe the Bible and I do my level best to do what the Bible tells me to do. I am involved in my local church and I pray. I do all this consistently and for the most part cheerfully.

 Nevertheless, I have a confession to make.

 In spite of all my noble intentions and best efforts, I am horrible with Easter.

 It’s really very sad. Most years the most holy and significant day on the Christian calendar passes me by without me giving it the thought and consideration that the season clearly deserves. I am not proud of this but it is what it is.  

 It’s not that I don’t celebrate the holiday. The celebration is actually a big part of the problem. Our church has all sorts of outreach and activity going on around Easter, and I do want to be involved in all of the goings-on. Then there’s the effort I go through to make the day special for my family.

 We don’t do the Easter bunny thing, but I do make baskets for each of my kids (including the graduate student) and we have a special meal that usually includes a cross shaped cake or some other edible object lesson. None of the Easter activity is wrong and much of it is actually beneficial but it does take time and mental energy that detracts from spiritual reflection.

 I determined that this year would be different.

 And for the most part things have been better this year. I have worked to be more intentional about setting aside time just to think about and meditate on the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The mediation has included some Bible reading and one morning last week I ran across this gem in the book of Ephesians.

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms~ Ephesians 1:18-20

 At first, the writer in me was simply struck by the beauty of his words. The Apostle Paul certainly knew how to construct a sentence. His writing style never fails to blow my mind. But his words do a whole lot more than paint an appealing picture in our minds. They impart a powerful truth: the very same power that raised Jesus to life is readily available to those who put their faith in Jesus.

 As I considered this verse it occurred to me that few of us actually see the mighty strength of Jesus resurrection power in our day-to-day lives. Many convert to Christianity only to walk away when they find themselves disheartened by the lack of power they have to change and become the people God promises they can be.

 There are at least two explanations for the lack of power many of us experience as Christians. The first has to do with the will. Many simply don’t have the spine to deal with the one issue that everybody has to deal with if they want to see God work powerfully in their lives.

 That issue is sin.

 Hebrews describes sin as a thing that entangles. Sin, if left unchecked in the life of a believer, wraps itself around us, stunting our growth and progress as Christians (Hebrews 12:1). Jesus was so adamant about believers dealing with their sin in a decisive fashion that he used some intense though hyperbolic language to advocate doing whatever necessary to deal assertively with any and every sin (Matthew 5:29).

 Lack of faith will also hold believers back from seeing God’s power work in their lives. Faith is double-sided. Genuine faith does not simply believe that God exists. Saving faith also believes that God will do the things He promises He will do in His word. Sin and faith are closely linked; many have no problem imagining God’s existence but they can’t quite buy into the notion that God actually hates sin. Believing in God is not enough to see His power in our lives. We must also believe that He means what He says.

 Easter is the season of new beginnings and fresh starts. God is always willing to give us one if we are willing. Get yours today by reaching out in faith to the God who loved you enough to die for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.