Moments of Doubt

Have you ever felt confident you were in God’s will and then later wondered if you’d made the right decision?

Have you ever had a strong conviction about something only to later completely change your mind?

Do you sometimes feel strong in your faith and in the next moment feel filled with doubt?

If we’re honest, I think we’ve all been there. I know there are times when I feel totally confident in God’s faithfulness and yet a minute later I’m filled with worry and fear.

So what’s going on in times like those? And what can we do about it?

In Matthew 11, Jesus has just finished giving instructions to his disciples before he sends them out to do ministry. Jesus then went out Himself to teach and preach in the surrounding towns. That’s when John the Baptist, who’s in prison, sends two of his disciples to Jesus with a question.

“Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Earlier in the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus came to John to be baptized, John said, “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, so why are you coming to me?” Clearly, John knew who Jesus was and felt inadequate to even baptize Him. In the gospel of John, he said of Jesus, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

So what changed? Why is John now wondering if Jesus is the one or if he should keep looking?

Why do you and I start to wonder? Why do you and I start doubt and question God? Why do we doubt His goodness and faithfulness?

I know for me it happens when my circumstances aren’t very good, when difficulties aren’t getting better, when I expected God to work in a certain way and He didn’t.

Maybe John expected to be released from prison. I’m sure he must have prayed about it. It’s easy to become discouraged and begin to doubt when we don’t see God act in the way we’d like or as quickly as we’d like. John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but maybe he also had expectations that Jesus would be a political or military savior as well. God had shown him that Jesus would take away the sins of the world–maybe John thought that would also mean overthrowing the Roman occupation and letting him out of prison.

So what does Jesus tell John’s disciples?

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”

Jesus is revealing Himself to the lowly, to the poor, to the sick, to the sinners and to the humble. He’s restoring their physical health and He’s offering spiritual health to those who believe in Him. His kingdom is advancing among “the least of these.” He’s not setting up an earthly kingdom though. Not yet.

Then Jesus ends with, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.”

I feel like Jesus is saying, “John, I know it’s hard right now. I know things haven’t gone like you expected. And yes, I could get you out of this right now if I wanted to, but that’s not why I’ve come. You know why I’ve come, so don’t give up, John. Keep trusting Me. Don’t turn away now. Your reward is coming.”

And so is your reward if you don’t turn away.

Family Reunion

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a family reunion. I think the last one was about twenty-five years ago. Since both of my parents have passed away, I haven’t done a very good job of staying in touch with my extended family.

My mom’s side of the family is spread out now. My dad’s side of the family is mostly in Pennsylvania. Robyn and I have lived in Arkansas for the past twenty-five years, which has made it difficult to visit family or attend reunions.

Two of my children, Rachel and Erica, are already married and live far enough away that we don’t see them very often. My daughter, Amy, is about to graduate from college and is most likely headed to Europe to serve with Young Life for a few years. And my son will soon be enlisting in the Navy. It’s not like I’ll never see my children again, but it’s not the same as when they were little.

A number of years ago, it occurred to me that up until a child graduates from high school, you see him or her almost every day of their life. But after they graduate, there are many more days you will not see them for the rest of their life. At least that’s been the case for me. After high school, I went off to college and spent very little time in my hometown after that.

I think it’s good and healthy to establish a new life, independent of parents. That’s especially important when a child gets married. Being overly bonded to parents is not a recipe for a healthy marriage.

And yet, I do hope Robyn and I can live near our children some day. I want to know them and enjoy a relationship with them as adults. I want to know my grandchildren when they come along. And if I live long enough, I’d like to meet my great-grandchildren.

And that brings me to something I am beginning to pray. My prayer is that Robyn and I would be able to have a family reunion some day with all of our descendents and their spouses. I did a little math…if our four children were to each have just two children of their own and then those eight children got married and had two children each…after ten generations there would be over 8,000 of us.

I want all 8,000+ to come into a relationship with Jesus, to walk with Him and serve Him and to raise the next generation to do the same. And one day when we’re all living in heaven, I want to have a family reunion. I want to meet my great-great-great-great-great granddaughter…and her husband…and their children. I want to meet all of my descendents and their spouses. And for that matter, I’d like to meet those from whom I descended. Have you ever stopped to consider that all of us have descended from Noah and his wife? In that sense, we’re all related.

By the way, don’t think of a heavenly family reunion as floating around in the clouds as spirits. That’s not a biblical view of heaven. Read Genesis 1 and 2. Then read Revelation 21 and 22. Heaven will be on earth one day. Sure, the earth is a messed up place now, but it won’t always be this way. God is going to restore it to His original design. He’s going to make it new again, the way it was supposed to be before sin entered the picture.

Heaven will be on earth, where we’ll live together with God. We’ll work. We’ll play. We’ll eat and drink. We’ll learn and explore and discover. We’ll worship God. And we’ll live in relationship with each other.

I’d love to take a walk with one of my daughters and her daughter and her daughter and her daughter…

I’d love to grab a football and throw it with my son and his son and his son and his son…

I hope we get to have a family reunion in a meadow with a hill nearby so Robyn and I can walk to the top of it, look out over our descendents and rejoice at how greatly God blessed us.

My family...many years ago...

The Danger of Forgetting

It happened again yesterday. A young child was left buckled in his car seat while his great-grandparents were in a store for two hours. They simply forgot he was in the car.

The outside temperature was over 100. It was closer to 140 inside the car. The little boy never had a chance. Because not just one person forgot, but two.

Forgetting can be devastating.

Can you imagine how that couple feels today? And the grandparents? And the parents? They’ll never get over it.

Robyn and I once forgot our second daughter in her car seat. Fortunately, it wasn’t hot and the van was parked inside the garage. It only took us a few minutes to realize we’d left her.

As human beings, we have a remarkable capacity to forget. We forget appointments. We forget birthdays. We forget why we just walked into a room. We forget children in their car seats.

Forgetting doesn’t always lead to death, but there are other serious consequences. And we’re all vulnerable. Everyday.

That’s why in Deuteronomy 4, Moses said to the nation of Israel, “watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget” and “remember the day you stood before the Lord your God” and “be careful not to forget.”

It’s why in Proverbs 4, Solomon says, “Do not forsake wisdom” and “hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”

We forget God. We forget His instructions. We forget what He’s done in our lives.

And then we live as if He practically doesn’t even exist. We face problems on our own. We worry. We become consumed with anxiety. We wear ourselves out trying to get our needs met. We chase after things we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment, but only leave us wanting more.

All because we forget Him.

Here’s a simple test to see if you’ve forgotten God: if you want anyone or anything more than you do God, then you’ve forgotten Him.

He isn’t meant to be a compartment in our lives. He’s not an add-on. He’s not an app to amuse us when we’re bored.

He’s the point. Of everything. There is no other point.

Have you forgotten that?

The newspaper included a suggestion for remembering there’s a child in the backseat. Place a stuffed animal in the car seat. Then whenever you buckle a child into the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front seat with you. Seeing the stuffed animal reminds you have a child back there.

Maybe you and I need a stuffed animal. Something to remind us there’s a Point. And we’re not it.

Father’s Day

My dad died over seven years ago. I still miss him.

In the summer of 2004, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia. In March of 2005, he passed away.

He was in the hospital for a couple days before he died. His doctor’s had made it clear he only had a few days left, so he knew he’d never be leaving that hospital room.

He was weak and uncomfortable, but able to talk with us, which only made the whole experience that much more surreal. My dad, who’d always been there for me, who’d always supported me, was about to be gone from my life.

On the day before he died, he was sitting on the bed. It was more comfortable for him than lying down. He and I were talking and I said, “Dad, if you could live one moment from your life over again, what would it be?”

How would you answer that question?

Whether you’re 19 or 49 (like me) or 72 (like my dad at the time he died)…what moment would you live over?

Maybe this is a better question: Is there a decision you wish you’d made differently? More specifically, was there a point at which you felt God leading you in a direction, but you didn’t follow?

Depending on the opportunity or the choice you made, it may be too late now. We can’t go back and undo what’s been done, but it’s never too late to turn back to God and seek Him today. The Bible is full of men and women who made wrong choices, but who turned from going their own way and began walking in obedience to God.

The first step is always to completely surrender to Him. Romans 12:1-2 says…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The only logical or reasonable response to all that God has done for us is to give ourselves to Him wholeheartedly. We offer ourselves to Him. We seek Him by reading His word and spending time with Him in prayer. As we do, we begin to think and act differently. We begin to desire what He desires for us and we walk according to His ways.

Maybe you’ve made some mistakes. Maybe some big ones. Join the club.

You can’t go back and undo them, but you can make a fresh start today. Don’t get to the end of your life and look back with regret. Today is the day to surrender. Today is the day to start over. God isn’t waiting to punish you for going your own way, He’s ready to welcome you back.

Maybe starting over will also involve an apology. Father’s Day is this weekend. Are you and your dad okay? Do you need to seek forgiveness? Or grant it?

Don’t wait. Now is the time.

By the way, if you’re wondering what my dad said when I asked him about the moment from his life he’d want to live over again, he answered, “The first time I kissed Sylvia.”

Sylvia is my step-mom. She and my dad were only married for five and a half years before he died, but they were a wonderful five years. He loved her very much and she loved him…and still misses him greatly.

The Worst Sin

What’s the worst sin you can think of?

Murder?

Rape?

Abusing a child?

Torture?

Those are awful sins, but what if there’s a sin that leads to those sins? Wouldn’t that one be even worse?

There is a sin that leads to those sins and every other sin. At first glance though, it doesn’t seem quite so bad. At least not as bad as the sins I mentioned.

The root sin, the one that leads to all the others is simply this: forgetting God.

Right before the nation of Israel was going to cross the Jordan River to enter the land God had promised to give them, Moses told them:

If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)

If we forget God, then we will find another “god” to worship and bow down to. We have to. We don’t have a choice. We will always look for life, for purpose, for meaning, for joy, for fulfillment, for happiness, etc. If we choose to not look for God to provide what we need, then we must look elsewhere.

“Doing life” isn’t easy, but it is simple. God instructs us to seek Him and worship Him only. He invites us to find life in Him. It’s what we are designed for.

But He never makes us do it His way. He doesn’t coerce us. He invites us.

And so we can choose to forget Him. We can choose to turn away and seek life elsewhere. And when we do, we invite destruction.

It’s sad how often we choose to live our lives on our own terms. We do whatever we can to order our lives in such a way to maximize our pleasure and happiness and minimize our pain. And because we must have the cooperation of others, we attempt to manipulate and control and even sin against those around us.

And that invites destruction. Marriages are destroyed. Families are destroyed. Churches are destroyed. Nations are destroyed.

The longer we do life apart from God, the more destruction we experience and the harder it is to break free. When we turn from God and naturally seek life elsewhere, we begin to believe lies about ourselves and about life. Our feelings and experiences become more true to us than what God says is true. And we end up living in bondage to the idols we’ve created for ourselves.

We thought our idols would give us life, but they were never capable of it. They promised us life, but delivered destruction.

Only God can promise life and deliver it.

Maybe you’re experiencing more destruction than life today. For whatever the reason, you turned from God, forgot Him and sought life in other places. A person. A career. Sex. Food. Possessions. Whatever. The list is endless.

The solution is always the same. We return to the God we forgot. We confess that we’ve been seeking life in the wrong places. We cry out for His help to turn from our idols and seek Him above everything else.

Change may not be immediate. In fact, it probably won’t be. We’ve built for ourselves a structure of beliefs (wrong ones) and habits that may have become very ingrained in us. The “truth” we think we know about life may in fact not be truth at all. We must allow God’s truth to penetrate our lives and reorder how we think and behave and feel.

We didn’t get into this mess in a day and we won’t get out of it in a day.

But we can take the first step today. We can turn back to the One who graciously offers real life. Life as it was meant to be. Life found in Christ alone. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life…”

The invitation to experience life is offered to you today. Will you accept it?