Feasting on Crumbs

She was dying of cancer. We had been friends since college. We had cried together and laughed much. Now she was walking a path I couldn’t.

When we were together she still did most of the talking. Her familiar laugh was sprinkled throughout the conversation. One of the last times I talked to her she said, “Thank you for the crumbs.”

She explained, “Every day I ask God for crumbs to get me through the day. He knows I can’t eat a big meal but need to survive on crumbs.” She related how every day she watches carefully for the crumbs God would provide. She looked forward to each one knowing they came from her Father’s hand.

Her faith amazed me. She was learning that the most valuable thing in her life was the moment by moment presence and provision of the God who loved her. He was walking with her through the darkness that was enveloping her. She was learning to let go of her children, husband, family and friends. She was drawn ever closer to her God. I wondered as I watched her those last weeks.

Years later as I walk through my own dark valleys I think of her. So, today I look for crumbs…knowing that my God is carefully laying them out for me to find.

Where There’s Life There’s Hope

Jonah 2:1-10

We know the story. Jonah refused the assignment God gave him. He didn’t’ just dig in his heels, he ran in the opposite direction. God pursued him with all the forces of nature, which included a massive storm and a huge fish.

What we read next is a little puzzling.  Jonah prays a long extended prayer, not of supplication, but of thanksgiving! This gives new meaning to the phrase “Where there’s life there’s hope.”

Imagine it with me. Jonah assumes he is a dead man. Into the raging sea he is thrown, sinking down to the depths. Amazingly, a huge fish swallows him and his journey continues. Whether Jonah is too dazed to be aware or barely conscience we don’t know, but after three days he realizes what he has been through, and is thankful to be alive. Notice, he doesn’t ask to be delivered from the fish. Yes, even if the rest of his days are spent in the belly of this fish, he is thankful to be alive. I really think Jonah assumed this was his new home.

But there is something else embedded in that prayer. . . God’s very real presence. After all, God is the one who had put him there. He might be in the belly of a whale, but God was with him and, for Jonah, that was enough. Jonah’s joy was not in his physical circumstances, but being in the presence of His God. He closes his prayer of thanksgiving with the phrase “Salvation is of the Lord.” God’s response to that acknowledgement? God commanded the fish to vomit him up. God showed Jonah such grace.

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How does this apply to me? In the midst of my trouble am I thankful? Not thankful for the trouble, but thankful that I am still alive and that God is with me? My every breath is from him. Do I comprehend that? Do I fully understand that “Salvation is of the Lord?” Am I so distracted by my difficult/dangerous circumstances that I fail to see the more important fact that God is with me? If trouble comes am I prepared to be satisfied with God being with me in the trouble, not necessarily removing me from it?

“and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b NASB)

What Do Christians Do?

I’m sure we all have a ready answer for that question. My answer has changed over the years. Let me explain.

I heard the gospel at a young age and accepted it. Somewhere along the way I twisted its meaning. I faithfully went to church, read my Bible, prayed, did all the things Christians were supposed to do. I was proud of who I was and what I had accomplished for God. I taught Sunday school, led Bible studies, served on committees, witnessed to others about Christ… Basically I followed my man-made list of what a Christian looks like and what a Christian does.

Then the trouble came. It began slowly over the years. Some painful episodes here and there. My faith was shaken, but I held on. Then more trouble and eventually a devastating family crisis that I was at a complete loss to “fix”. I turned to God in confusion and despair. The mess that was my life was beyond fixing. It was too shattered. I lived moment by moment. I kept my Bible by my bed. It was the last thing I read before I drifted off to sleep. In the morning I would pull it into bed with me before I got up to face the day. It was my life line. It was God’s life-giving word. During those days I spent hours in the word. Letting it flow over me, sink into me, binding up my wounds it gave me moment by moment strength. I would leave it open and not an hour or two would go by that I didn’t need to read and gain new strength. I remember crying again and again. It is too much, I can’t go on … and I would hear God whisper … “Can you get through this hour?” My answer was, “With You I can.” And I did again and again. He became my life and breath. The only thing that was keeping me sane.

My self-sufficient self had met its match in this trouble and I desperately needed God in order to keep on living. What I didn’t realize was that I had always needed Him. Unfortunately my displaced confidence was in living the Christian life well instead of simply living with Christ.

I needed the trouble to see my need. I needed the trouble to see the beauty of the one who loves me beyond measure. I needed the trouble to come to the end of myself and look more carefully at the God who made me. I needed the trouble to understand that God saves us in the midst of trouble not from it. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean we get a pass on awful things happening. We still live in a fallen world. The difference is we have a God who is with us.

That was what I was missing. I was trying to measure up. I was trying to be my own savior. God was there all along, waiting for me to acknowledge His presence.

So what is my life like now?  The trouble is still surrounding us. God hasn’t fixed it all, but whatever life throws at me He will be beside me. If the trouble deepens His arms will sustain me. The trouble has not been able to pry him from my side.

So getting back to my question. What does a Christian do? … Simply, they live in God’s presence. That changes who you are and what you do. Thus we don’t strive to do good works so God is pleased with us, instead our good works are a result of living in Christ. Being so absorbed with him and who he is that our life takes a completely different direction.

There are no longer lists to accomplish, but a life to be lived day by day, moment by moment in God’s presence.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 NASB

Prodigal Children (Part 3) – How to Help

Prodigal children.  They seem to be more plentiful these days.  Time after time I am seeing children from solid Christian homes turn their back on their parents’ faith and walk away.  They are not just leaving for a couple months. Many of them have been gone for years. The broken hearted parents are struggling to have hope their prodigal will ever return to the God and family who loves them.

A prodigal can sap all the energy from a family.  Their misdeeds are emotionally and financially draining. The physical toll on parents can also be substantial.  The stress can cause physical illness.

How do we respond? How should we respond? Here are some suggestions.

1.  Don’t quote Proverbs 22:6 to them.  I don’t know how many times people told me, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” They meant it as an encouragement. What I heard was an accusation. “I must not have done it right.”  You need to remember that Proverbs is not a book of promises. Proverbs is a book of principles. It consists of guidelines for wise living. There are many promises in scripture. Proverbs 22:6 is not one of them.

2. Don’t tell them you know their child will turn around.  They just need to be patient.  The hard reality is you don’t know if they will.  There are prodigals in my own family who never did come to faith.  Certainly the hope is there, but some prodigals never repent.  Our job is to pray that they do, but we can’t promise someone they will.

3. Do ask the parents how they are coping.  Often there is concern for the child in trouble when the parents are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all that is going on.

4. Tell the parents you are praying for them and for their child. Don’t ask a lot of questions. Most parents would rather not review the latest trouble with you. If you ask them they will either answer “fine.” (which isn’t true), answer vaguely or won’t answer at all.

5. Give them an opportunity to tell you what their latest struggles are, but don’t ask them a lot of questions. Don’t be offended by silence. They simply might be unable to vocalize the trouble to you. Just that you brought it up can be a comfort to them.

6. Listen when they talk about their child. That they are talking at all is good. I once had a woman ask me how I was doing. When I told her “It’s been a very bad week.” she responded by nodding her head, turning around and walking away. She never asked me that question again.

7. If they have to meet with law enforcement or their child has to go to court, offer to go with them. To have a familiar friend sitting beside you can be the difference between hope and despair.

8. Tell them you are sorry. They are grieving the loss of their hopes and dreams for their child.  Grieving what might have been. They need to know that others are grieving with them.

9. Don’t be afraid to cry with them. I once had a friend call to ask how I was doing.  When I told her the awful things that were going on she didn’t offer advice, she wept with me. Those tears are still precious to me.

10. Don’t make a point of telling them how well your children are doing, or how proud you are of each one. If they do ask about your children, however, tell them the truth. When I was going through the worst of it with one of my children I often called a friend with charming children. I would start the conversation with, “I need to hear about some kids that are doing well.” I meant it, but I was the one to ask. She never brought it up.

11. Don’t tell them what they did wrong. Most people who give advice have no idea what parents are going through. They see a very different picture in public from what goes on at home. Prodigals tend to be very charming in public. They also are very good at twisting reality. I remember sitting at my kitchen table with a nineteen year old who was explaining to me what we were doing wrong. I responded with one or two comments and then silently listened. He obviously believed one side and I didn’t have the strength to explain it all to him. Thankfully he left after about 30 minutes.

12. Continue to include them in things. They feel isolated already. They assume people don’t want to be around them. Even if they decline your invitation, they will be thankful that you thought of them.

13. Above all, pray for them. Pray that they wouldn’t become utterly discouraged. Pray that their focus would shift from their own lack to God’s amazing grace. Pray that their child would turn their heart back to the God who loves them and the family that longs for reconciliation. Pray for the family as they go through some of the hardest days, months or years they will ever know. Pray that they would learn day by day to cling to the God who loves them in spite of their imperfect parenting skills. Most importantly, pray that their joy would be found in God alone, not in their children.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Romans 12:10-12, 15, 16 NASB)

 

 

Overcoming Difficulties

Life is difficult, sometimes downright horrific.

There are the day to day annoyances:  The rude person at the bank, the person who cut you off in traffic, the lady at the grocery store blocking the aisle.

There are the heart rending conflicts with people:  The spouse that is always critical, the child who is angry you adopted him, the child who is angry you gave birth to him, the “friend” who defriended you on Facebook, being accused of something unthinkable by someone who knew better.

There are the life changing difficulties:  Job loss, Divorce, Death in the Family, Sexual Abuse.

It does no good to pretend these things don’t hurt us.  To put a smile and say “Praise the Lord” does not change what is happening within our hearts.  Psalm 51:6 says “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…” God knows about these struggles.  It isn’t wise to forget they happened or deny their existence.  They need to be faced honestly with God.  We should bring these things to him and let him address them head on.

Own up to the fact that you got mad at the lady in the grocery store, that you were offended by the rude driver.  Only then can God deal with your own selfish heart that puts your own wants and needs before others.

Own up to the fact that when your spouse uses cruel or critical words it wounds you.  It cuts you to the core.  Own up to the fact that you are devastated that your child doesn’t return the love that you so carefully and tirelessly gave him.  Own up to the fact that you were blindsided by this friend who now appears to be your enemy.

Own up to the fact that losing your job has made you worry about the future, the divorce has shaken your belief that all is right with the world, the death has left you wanting to die yourself, longing for heaven and the promise of no more death and pain (Revelation 21:4), the sexual abuse has left you doubting the goodness of God in the midst of the memories and betrayal.

If we are honest we realize we don’t have the ability to respond as we should, it is only through the power of Christ that we can move forward with grace and purpose.  Philippians 4:6 says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” As we bring these things to God we see the impossible happen. Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Vs. 8 gives us suggestions on what to set our mind on “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

The point here is not that we are happy about difficulties, but only with God’s strength can we learn to be content and yes, even rejoice in what God is doing in our lives in the midst of trouble.

Philippians 4:11-13 gives us one final word on dealing with impossible circumstances.

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstances I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Trouble will continue to come.  It is only through God’s grace that we can respond as we should.   Turn your face to God and let him bit by bit change your focus, your mindset and your heart.