Archives For faith

Good decisions

Allison Stevens —  July 27, 2011 — 6 Comments

Blogging is difficult for me because what I write is only a tiny slice of the truth. It’s not full and complete. I can’t say everything I want to or need to. But here is something that happened to me I wanted to share. I don’t say near enough in this about the power of my relationship with my husband who is my best friend and how he helped me through this difficult moment in my life. Maybe I’ll say something more next week about that.  Thank you for your patience with this process!

On Sunday, I was thinking about decisions I’ve made over the past 10 years. Many of the choices brought me so much happiness. They’ve brought me joy like nothing else.  But as I sat on my couch, an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction rose up inside. I questioned a couple of significant decisions I’d made.

I felt sick to my stomach. I thought I had done the right thing at the time. No, I knew I had. So why now the doubt?

There were pros and cons to each side of this one particular decision. Each side had its significant life-changing side-effects. This was not a moral dilemma; it was a choice of preference.  Do I prefer it this way or that way?  I chose this way.  Now I wish I had chosen that way.

Either way required a sacrifice on my part.  And what I’d sacrificed for choosing route “A”, resurrected itself in me and it was as if it was fighting for justice, a fair trial, like it was saying, “Hey!  Look at me! You can’t just toss me aside as if I don’t matter.” And I felt intense pain because of what I gave up. I didn’t see it or feel it then as clearly as I did just a few days ago.

The feelings scared me. Had I sinned? How could I have been so wrong? How can I know anything? What if I will always regret this decision? What if I live for the rest of my life with this sinking feeling of what I’d given up? Oh God, I prayed, I can’t live like this.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Help me, God. Despair swam around me, like a shark about to devour any happiness I had.

Then I felt a bit of a nudge toward something. Grief.  Grieve what you’ve lost, Allison. Feel your pain, express it, and push through it. Don’t run from it, numb it, push it down. Don’t despair.   Because despair is the result of believing that what I lost would have saved me; that it was my source of life.

It’s not. Nothing will save me or give me life, except Jesus.

And, with my husband beside me, with his help, this is what I ended up with:  whispering His name:  Jesus. In that desperate moment, Jesus became my answer. He is all I need. He is more than sufficient.

If my life depends on my ability to make “good”, non-regrettable decisions, I’m doomed. I can’t rely on myself to give me what I need. Only one person can do that. Jesus Christ.

Rarely has there been a clear-cut path to where I should go or what I should do. And the times when I’ve been so sure of myself, I now question some of those decisions. My point isn’t that we can’t ever be sure of ourselves or know what a right path is. It’s that I realize that I’m in the thick woods of life. It’s complicated and difficult at times. Even when it seems easy, it’s not. I step forward, and a limb hits me in the face. The brush is so thick I can’t see two feet in front of me.  And the path is uneven, too. How many times I’ve stepped into a hole and stumbled.

The message of the cross, which is love, is power to us who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18.) And God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligent of the intelligent (v 19.) He will make Himself known through His love, not through the wisdom of man.

Walk by faith, not by sight. Moment by moment, seek love and follow Jesus. I think that that, not making good decisions, is the point of life.

Unexpected Journeys

Jeff Olson —  June 16, 2011 — 2 Comments

Unexpected journeys. Little and big…life is full of them. A quick trip to the store turns into a car accident and a long night in the emergency room. The drive home from work turns into into break down on the highway and a long wait for tow truck. A call on the cell phone turns into the news that someone you loved has passed away.

We can negotiate the little journeys of life–mostly. The big journeys, however,  can turn our lives upside down.

I have a friend who just started down one of those big journeys this week. His cancer is back, and he is having a bone marrow transplant. This is an aggressive treatment that requires extensive chemotherapy,  a long stay in the hospital and  several months of isolation to complete. This is not at all how he and his wife expected to spend their summer and fall.

Unexpected journeys…the big ones can certainly rock our worlds. Some of us have a solid faith like my friend. As he enters this journey, I genuinely see in him what David wrote about in Psalm 23:4

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

Others of us have more of a struggle. We go through times like David wrote about in Psalm 22:1

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?”

God is gracious God who meets us where we are. During those unexpected journeys there are times for both Psalm 22 and Psalm 23.


 

 

In his book, Kingdom Triangle, J. P. Moreland records the incredibly true story about a medical missionary and a hot water bottle. It’s a bit long, but it’s worth having a look.

Dr. Helen Roseveare, who was serving as a missionary in Zaire, Africa, once helped a mother of a two-year old girl give birth to premature baby. Sadly, the mother died from complications during the delivery. The two-year old little girl was understandably devastated that her mother passed away.

Keeping the newborn alive was a struggle for Dr. Roseveare and her medical team. They had no incubator, so keeping the premature baby warm became their most pressing challenge–especially during the chilly, windy nights that were typical of Central Africa. Their best option was a hot water bottle. Unfortunately, the only hot water bottle they had burst that night as they were filling it. So they did what they could, putting the baby as close to fire as safely as possible and sleeping between the baby and the door to protect it from harmful drafts.

The next morning, Dr. Roseveare went to have prayers with the orphanage children. She gave the kids various things to pray about and mentioned the newborn baby and her two-year old sister.  She told them about the hot water bottle bursting and their struggle to keep the baby warm.  During the prayer time, a 10 year old girl named Ruth, boldly prayed for God to send a hot water bottle that day so the baby wouldn’t die.  She finished her prayer with this request, “While You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?”

Little Ruth’s audacious prayer took the good doctor off guard and put her on the spot. She didn’t know if she could honestly say, “Amen.” She didn’t believe God would or maybe even could answer such a prayer.The only way she thought it would be possible was if she received a package from her homeland, which she hadn’t in nearly four years.

By now, you probably know where this going….but stick with me.

Later that afternoon, a twenty-two pound package arrived at the doctor’s doorstep. She was so excited that she couldn’t open the package alone, so she sent for the orphanage children to come to her home. Together, they opened the large cardboard box, and one by one, Dr. Roseveare revealed it’s contents. Along with knitted jerseys, bandages, and some dried fruits, she eventually pulled out a brand new hot water bottle. The place, of course, erupted with tears of joy.

Moments later, Ruth, the little girl who prayed, rushed up to the box and asked about the dolly. And yep, sitting at the bottom of the box was a small, beautifully dressed dolly.

As it turns out, the package had been sent five months earlier by the doctors former Sunday School class, whose leader had felt God’s prompting to send a water bottle. One of the girls from the class had also put in a doll for an African girl.

There are many ways a person can take this story. Some who read it may be skeptical. That’s it’s an exaggerated or fabricated story meant to tug at our heart strings or promote the doctors faith. Others may believe it truly happened, but then think that it’s purely coincidental or these kinds of Divine miracles only happen to missionaries serving in third world countries.

Still some might wonder, “Would’ve the package with the hot water bottle and the little doll arrived, even if the little girl hadn’t boldly asked for it?” Maybe. Or maybe the little girl’s prayer was part of what God used to ensure the package’s safe and timely arrival just like God used Elijah’s (who was an ordinary human just like all of us) prayers to prevent it from raining and for the rains to start again at just the right time (James 5:17-18).

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a good story, but aren’t we all? One thing I’m certain of is that this is more than just a heartwarming story that we might see on the Hallmark Channel. I’m convinced it’s more than just story about random good luck. It’s even more than a story of about a 10 year old girl’s amazing faith.

To me, this is really a story of God’s power and faithfulness that is relevant for all believers in Jesus, even for those “ordinary” Christians from the suburbs of America. It’s ultimately a story about our God who is on the move and how we get to partner with Him in extraordinary ways to advance His Kingdom.

 

 

Soul Surfer

Jeff Olson —  April 14, 2011 — 1 Comment

Last weekend my family took in the excellent film Soul Surfer.  The film tells the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton who beat incredible odds to become a competitive surfer again.

Life was anything but easy for Bethany after she lost her left arm and nearly died after being viciously attacked by a large  tiger shark.  She not only had to rise above her fears of going back into the water and to learn how to surf again with only one arm, but she also had to struggle with how to come to terms with why God allowed such a terrible thing to happen. Although she wrestled to understand God, her faith, like her determination to surf again, remained unshakable.

With the help of family and friends, she came to trust God with her unanswered questions. Eventually, she began to see how God takes something as traumatic and awful as a shark attack and turns it into something beautiful and powerful for good.

Anyone struggling with severe loss or thinking about quitting on life and God might want to consider seeing this film. It is so much more than your typical shark attack movie (I’m thinking Jaws). It’s an amazing story that will move your heart and remind you that while God isn’t always safe, He is good!

You may also want to check out the Day of Discovery program When God Takes What Matters Most, Part II: They Mayer Family.

Mystery

Allison Stevens —  March 7, 2011 — 1 Comment

Who doesn’t enjoy a good mystery whether it’s a novel, or a big screen “whodunit” thriller?  I love the wonder, the questions, the surprises, and piecing together clues.

Initially, though, I don’t always appreciate the unknown in my personal life nearly as much as I do on TV.  Mystery takes me out of my comfort zone. I feel safer when I know what, where, when, why, and how.

I think that is a false sense of security, though, because having all my questions answered gives me the illusion that I’m in control.  True security, freedom and peace is found by trusting in Jesus and living according to the Spirit, not the flesh (Romans 8:1-11.) This path involves faith and mystery.

The greatest mystery in my life is how God transforms my heart. I don’t change for the better because I work harder at being a decent person. I tried that route and it was a disaster, trust me. My heart changes because God changes it. And His love that penetrates my heart paves the way for Him to do His good work in me.

We don’t need to have it all figured out. We can allow mystery into our lives and watch the incredible things God can do in us and through us; all for His glory and pleasure.

Jigsaw Puzzles

Allison Stevens —  January 17, 2011 — 5 Comments

I love jigsaw puzzles. I enjoy the challenge of putting the pieces together and watching them develop into a picture. I recently bought a 750 piece puzzle of New York’s Time Square. I worked at it for hours studying the picture on the box, the details of each puzzle piece, and putting each piece into its right spot.

I was baffled at some of the pieces.  I couldn’t find where they went.  I turned them upside down, putting them this way and that, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out where they should go. It was frustrating to the point that I had to walk away from the puzzle a few times.

Some of my clients feel that way about their lives.  They feel as if their lives are in a million different pieces and they can’t seem to put it all back together. For some, their lives were put together and a tragedy destroyed the picture. Or they continue to try, like I did, to put the same piece in the wrong spot over and over again. Their lives don’t make sense and some are preoccupied with regret: “If only I had known what I know now.”

The truth is that we only know what we know when we know it. We can’t rush the development of our lives, just like I couldn’t hurry through the puzzle. It was going to develop only as fast as I was able to comprehend it. At times I had to have faith that this was going to become something. When I doubted that all the pieces were there, or questioned my ability to put it together, I had to keep trying. And I had to walk away, too, giving myself some relief from figuring it out.

Like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, living takes time, persistence, and faith. One piece at a time. One moment at a time. One mistake at a time. One success at a time. If we believe that there is a picture unfolding, that our lives mean something, we’ll be able to keep going.

It felt so satisfying to be able to put a puzzle piece in its proper place. Maybe you’ve had a situation in your life that didn’t make sense for so long, but then, after time, it became a part of the beautiful and amazing picture of your life God was putting together.

In my time with God the other morning I came across this verse in Eugene Petersen’s New Testament translation The Message :

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed-that exhilarating finish in and with God-he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

What a powerful way to put it!

Are you wavering in your faith? Go to school on the life of Jesus. It’s more than a feel good story. His life, death, and resurrection will inject some major adrenaline into your heart.

Open

Jeff Olson —  January 22, 2010 — 3 Comments

I recently read the book Open. It’s a fascinating and refreshingly candid autobiography of Andre Agassi, one of the best players to ever step foot on a tennis court.

After winning eight Grand Slam titles and earning millions of dollars, Agassi, (who was forced into playing tennis at a young age by a tyrant father who was driven to make his son a winner), tells of his tragic slide into drug abuse. Despite his enormous success, for most of his life he had followed the script that others wrote for him, and it left it completely empty. To him it felt like it was all a charade.

With no idea of who he really was, the man who once sported the advertisement slogan “image is everything” turned to heavy drinking and snorting crystal meth.

When asked on a sports radio talk show about how he quit using meth and eventually resurrected his life and his career, Agassi said it wasn’t like he said no to crystal meth as much as it was he began saying yes to something better.

Embracing something better it is central to how any of us break free from addictions that are destroying our lives. At times it can be hard to believe there is more to life than what we’ve been settling for in our addictions. But that is why faith often comes into play. Sometimes faith in the promise of something better is all we have to get us through (2 Corinthians 5:7).

repair bill-flickrYesterday I received word that one of our cars broke down—again. It’s the third time in less than a month that we’ve been hit with a major car repair. This time around it was the timing belt and water pump.

Cha-ching, cha ching.

This one hit me pretty hard. Not only was it forcing me to spend money I don’t have, the unseen forces of darkness used it to lie to my heart and pit me against God. Questions like  “How could You let this happen again?” or  “Are You truly for me?” or “Do You really care?” began to surface in me.

I’m normally “the glass is half full” kind of person, but it got sort of dark and negative there for awhile.  At one level, I was aware that I was sinking inside, but a part of me (not the redeemed part) just didn’t care.

Hours after hearing the bad news, God began to remind me in little ways that He was and is still there. No, He didn’t suddenly fix my car (although I would’ve have been up for that). But He sent a person across my path that made me aware of a less expensive option. Another friend prayed for me and against the lies that were assaulting my heart. Later on I learned how God graciously provided for my wife when the car broke down on the side of a busy road. And what may seem to be unrelated, a person who is typically cold and unfriendly, unexpectedly cracked a smile and joked with me.

It’s not always easy to spot, but God’s kindness was all over these things. Slowly, the truth of Who He really is (a compassionate God who promises to never fail or abandon us—Hebrews 13:5) began to confront and replace the lies that had seeped into my soul.

Looking back, it was the truth of His kindness in the little things that snapped me out my funk and brought me back to Him.

Divine Disruption

Jeff Olson —  July 15, 2009 — 1 Comment

divine-disruption-flickr

I was recently thumbing through the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles when my eyes were drawn to the story of King Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25). The events surrounding the early days of his reign, in particular, give a glimpse into a surprising way God sometimes works in the background of our lives.

Amaziah took over the throne of Judah at the age of 25 after his father was assassinated. As the young king worked to restore a sense of stability to his country, he assembled a massive army among the men of Judah. He also hired the services of an additional 100,000 soldiers from Israel.

Before heading off to war, an unnamed “man of God” warned Amaziah not to let the hired troops from Israel fight with Judah’s army because the favor of the LORD was no longer with Israel. The unidentified man made it clear to the king that no matter how bravely his men would battle, if he proceeded with his plans, Judah would ultimately lose. He reminded the king that God has the “power to help you or to trip you up” (2 Chronicles 25:7-8 NLT).

The king was faced with a tough decision. Breaking the coalition with Israel was complicated. He had invested a lot of money to enlist their services, but it was an unholy alliance. So rather than wait for God to bring it all down, Amaziah cut his losses, trusting that God could make up for much more than he had spent.

The story reassures us that God is willing and able to help us. But it also serves to remind us, that when necessary, He will stick out His Divine foot and “trip” us up. As this happens, it can seem like He’s against us—but He’s not.

God is not out to ruin us, but He will ruin and foil what could destroy us. 

The next time something isn’t working out and it seems like God is against you, it may be that you’re experiencing a dose of Divine disruption. Sometimes God mercifully frustrates what may even seem like the best laid plans to save us from ourselves and to make room for something far better. —Jeff Olson