Tag: endurance

Imagination and Marriage and Closure

I’d like to say briefly, especially to those of you who know us well, that Mike and I are in a good place. This piece has been years in the making and by God’s grace we will celebrate our 13th anniversary in a few months. I have written and shared this piece in hopes that it may encourage others who find themselves in low seasons of marriage. I wrote this with Mike’s input in every draft. Honestly, while I’m a little nauseous over the vulnerability of these words being out in the world, I’m also feeling a sense of closure. It’s not that we’ve made it and it’s all sunshine from here on out, but that was a particularly rough time in our story.  Today I’m especially grateful for our God who reconciles and redeems, who always hopes.

I stood before the rack of cards and let out an irritated sigh. I folded another sparkling heart-smattered card closed after reading its equally garish sentiments. Wiping pink and red glitter from my fingers onto my jeans, I reached for another Valentine’s Day card. With each new expression my heart sunk and my frustration rose. Lies! These cards are full of lies and empty romantic nonsense! I wanted to shout in frustration in the middle of the aisle. Were there really married people out there who felt this way? I couldn’t imagine it to be true.

My husband and I were in the midst of a particularly difficult season in our marriage. The stresses of finances, caring for small children, and my own journey pursuing work outside the home added tension to an already tenuous connection…
You can read the rest here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/imagining-better-marriage-actually-improved-mine.html

I Need Theology for Days Like This

It started like any other Monday, except for the glaring fact it was technically a Tuesday. Whatever it felt like, it was the first day back to school after a long weekend. A long weekend four of the six of us had battled the stomach flu, myself included, I might add.

In the normal hustle bustle of getting two kids ready for school, one ready for preschool, and the fourth dressed in something he would undoubtedly stain and ruin, my eldest daughter excitedly tells me that today is, in fact, her “Superstar Day!”

I feel the tension start in my shoulders.

Being Superstar just means you’re the teacher’s official helper for the day, but it also means you CANNOT be late for school. If you’re late then you won’t be able to help with all sorts of vital beginning of the day protocol, so your turn is skipped.

It also means that my eldest will now be reminding me every two minutes all morning that we can’t be late. Mom, we really really can’t be late! Mom. Mommy. Mom. Mom. MOM! Not that this will help her in any way to be able to find the shoes that have disappeared or brush her teeth thoroughly and efficiently. It means she will be an emotional wreck tearing through the house apoplectic in search for her shoes and bemoaning the very idea she would need to attend to details like teeth brushing in the face of such trials as these.

I hastily make lunches and throw them into the open backpacks mercifully hanging on their hooks where they’re supposed to be. As I do I catch glimpse of my eldest’s homework folder looking fuller than in should after a long weekend. I curse in my head as I realize it’s the class memory verses I (in a moment of nobility and temporary insanity) volunteered to correct weekly and send back in on Mondays.

I race to the kitchen to grab a red pen and glance at the clock. Seven minutes, I got this. Somehow in the blur of the vomit spattered weekend, last week’s homework schedule with the official verse must have been thrown away. So, I flip through the stack to find the Smart Kid’s paper and begin correcting the rest off it.

Mom! What are you doing?! Mom, we have to go! Moooooom we can’t beeee laaaaate!! Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mom. MOM!

I yell to gather the troops. I even manage to keep my cool when I realize the preschooler has just been doing who-knows-what for the last half hour wandering in her underwear, rolls in last and looks at me like she has no idea what the fuss is about. I redirect her to the clothes I have repeatedly asked her to put on all morning, and have her big sister help her because I cannot have her looking over my shoulder one second longer. The toddler is sitting on the floor screaming that I won’t let him destroy the stack of freshly corrected papers I’m quickly collating. And my elder son is blissfully oblivious having an imaginary battle wielding his Power Ranger morpher.

Miraculously it is only one minute past the ideal out-the-door time as we stumble out into the wide world waiting for us. My eldest sprints ahead to throw open the door of the car. She freezes and turns around to stare at me, eyes bulging. MOM!

And then I too see it. The ginormous dresser my husband had picked earlier in the weekend. And forgot to remove.

The tightly wound rubber band holding the lid on my pressure cooker of emotions was about to snap. I grab for my cell phone so I can share this moment with my wonderful husband, remember there are children present, and send off a quick sarcastic passive-aggressive text instead.

I throw open the broken tailgate which comes crashing back down on top of me. Second try I am able to force it to stay open. With all the strength of my rage I grab the dresser, rip it from the back of the car, and single handedly carry it to the house.

Well that was the original plan anyway. Before I realized it wasn’t the flimsy particle board Ikea decor I am accustomed to. I imagine going full beast-mode and just kicking the thing onto the street and leaving it there. I’m pretty sure it would make a very satisfying crack as it hit…

Gah! Head back in the game. It’s Superstar Day! As if I could have forgotten with my daughter whimpering from the sidewalk.

I move three car seats into the still standing middle row and, as I’m buckling the littlest, shout for my daughter to get in the front seat. She freezes and looks at me with eyes the size of the dirty bowls of cereal left forgotten in the kitchen. But isn’t that illegal?!

Yep it is. You want to be Superstar or not kid?! WE HAVE TO GO.

She sidles cautiously into the passenger seat; stiff, trying to looking taller than she is.

We’re off.

Now comes the awkward moment where we all know what time it is. It’s the time I sing the silly song I made up before we talk about a Bible verse and pray together. I do not feel like a happy, clappy Christian this morning. For a brief second I think maybe this morning I’ll just skip it. I don’t want to be fake and my kids will know the difference. I feel the Spirit turn inside me.

So I pray (out loud) asking God to help me forgive others the way He has forgiven me. That I would live my life the way He would if He were me.

My eldest asks to read the Bible verse from her new (and first ‘official’) Bible she’s been carrying everywhere since she got it. She chooses Proverbs 31:29-30:

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Of all the verses… I grit my teeth. I do not feel like dealing with the Proverbs 31 woman right now.

We skid into the parking lot one minute late and I mentally pray it’s close enough. My daughter jumps from the car and sprints off as I’m speaking the words of the Lord I speak every morning over my kids before they leave the car:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love others as yourself, for this sums up the law and the prophets. For you, Emma Grace Marsden, and you, Logan Vance Marsden, have been called to make disciples of all people, teaching them everything Jesus has taught you. And surely He is with us always even until the end of the age! And remember: Mommy loves you!”

Usually Emma rolls her eyes and taps her foot impatiently, but she’s already long gone. Logan, still so blissfully unaware of the crazy storm raging around him, smiles at me. “Love you too, Mom,” and bounds off to class.

I read on Twitter recently a man, whom I would like to give the benefit of the doubt was trying to be funny, comment that the topics of most interest to women in the Bible have to do with abortion, marriage, and pregnancy. It set my teeth on edge.

No no no no no. No. NO! I need the entire Word of God at my disposal if I’m to have any hope of maintaining any semblance of sanity on terrible Tuesdays. I need good theology to get me through the tough daily grind of just being me. Otherwise I might as well just take Mrs. Job’s advice to her afflicted husband and just curse God and die already.

The Lord does not offer me a stone when I ask Him for bread. He offers a feast! He multiplies my weak efforts. It is by His strength I gain by knowing and loving His Word that I survived Tuesday morning to make it to Tuesday afternoon. Where at WinCo my screaming toddler went possessed on me and threw two dozen packages of tortillas into the cart in his fit of rage at being restrained in the cart seat while my back was turned.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

 

 

 

 

Jericho

After nearly eight years out, last week I rejoined the workforce. It’s not much, only about ten hours a week as a sales associate in an outlet shoe store. It is the same shoe store I worked in when I was in eleventh grade. I have walked the gray industrial carpeted floors past the very same spot where I remember realizing I was in love with the guy who would one day be my husband. (And excitedly decided to tell him, only for him to beat me to it and tell me he had a new girlfriend). I’m about a solid decade older than my coworkers, one of whom is actually our babysitter.

I had been praying for more money. Now, that might sound shallow, but I’ve got three kids in private school on a single income. I am nothing if not completely honest with God when I pray; He knows what I need, so why beat around the bush? However, I planned on these prayers leading to either something happening with Mike at work or to some awesome writing opportunity where I could actually make money off something I’m already doing.

Let’s face it, time is not a commodity I have in great supply. I’m currently a junior high youth leader, women’s Bible study leader, church nursery director, and I dabble in the blogosphere. And that’s just what I do in my “free” time. Sometimes though, perfect circumstances are in motion that are just so obviously an answer to prayer that, whether it was the answer I wanted or not, I knew the opportunity to work for an old friend (who was willing to be very flexible with scheduling) was the answer I got.

In my daily Bible reading I’m going through an Old Testament Overview reading plan. Around the time of all this prayer and part-part time employment talk I was reading in Joshua. (Note: the following is not a coincidence. You want to have God speak to you? Put in the effort by being consistently in the Word and believe you have been purposed to read what you are when you are.)

Joshua 6 tells the story of the fall of Jericho (and the walls came a-tumbling down–yeah that one). The Israelites have just crossed into the land God promised to give them after forty years of wandering in the desert. They are now faced with the somewhat daunting task of claiming the land. Jericho looms before them, an advanced fortress with four foot thick walls. No one was just going to sneak up on Jericho. It would have to be taken by extreme force.

So God tells them to walk in circles around the place. Not in military formation, but strung out with priests blowing ram’s horns and the ark of the covenant being carried in the mix. Oh, and they’re not even allowed to talk. They’re to do this once a day for six days, then on the seventh day they’re to walk around the city seven times, blast the trumpets, and everyone shouts. Then the walls fall down and the Israelites will march in and conquer the city.

Sounds pretty cut-and-dried. And, if we’re being honest, kind of ridiculous and a bit tedious.

This story caught me off guard because, though I was already familiar with it, in reading it I was struck with what a perfect metaphor it is for where I feel I’m at in life. I’m doing weird, disjointed things that wouldn’t seem to add up were it not for the common factor that I’m honestly seeking the Lord in all of it as best I know how. I’m writing late into the night, reading books off of seminary lists, selling comfortable shoes for minimum wage, comforting a feverish teething toddler, prepping for Bible study, meal planning, and keeping tabs on my personal heroes of faith via Twitter.

Much like the Israelites must have looked fools to their enemies on the other side of the wall, I am currently marching in my own vulnerability parade. I’m willingly putting myself in situations I don’t feel totally prepared for, anticipating God will show up big, but risking looking ridiculous. (Hence my new video attempts).

Unlike times of more lost “what am I supposed to do” wanderings in the desert of the past, I do believe there is some sort of divine purpose that is set in motion. I just can’t see how it’s all going to work out. I’m just circling around and around and around. Day in and day out living how I hope Jesus would live my life if He were me.

Some words I read in John Calvin’s commentary keep playing in my head: “Though the circulatory movement round the walls might have excited derision, it was afterwards known, by its prosperous result, that God commands nothing in vain.” It is a message the Lord has reminded me of again and again and again. If nothing I’m doing is in vain, then by default it has a purpose. I can view the journey as a burden, or I can trust there are things being shaken that I cannot fathom and make the most of this purposeful, circuitous wandering.

Even Jesus didn’t just march straight to the pinnacle of His ministry at the cross. He first spent time teaching around the countryside and in the cities of the life now being made available, and healing and casting out demons. After a few years of this transient life He was led to die slowly on the horrible, glorious cross where He shouted in victory, “It is finished!” And the earth shook and the very walls of death came tumbling down.

If I give up now I’ll never get to see what’s on the other side of this wall. And who knows how many laps I have left?

******

Thinking of Jericho has been helping me keep perspective on the days it feels like the fatigue and tedium of daily life is going to overtake me. Anyone else experiencing a Jericho season?

Rugged Maniac Life

I stood at the base of a muddy, ten foot tall wall catching my breath and waiting my turn for the filthy knotted rope to assist my ascent. My red and black tie-dyed shirt, that I had Pinterest-ly cut into an adorable y-back tank, clung to me wet and muddy. I wiped my shoes, that had been soaked while navigating over obstacles in waist deep murky water, on the grass hoping to gain a bit more traction for the climb. Encouragement and advice rained down from above where my friend Allison, whose nearly six foot frame is all legs, had mounted gracefully. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty but I was determined to push myself through.

I had already survived two miles of rugged terrain and muddy obstacles with a little over a mile still to go. I had climbed, crawled, balanced, swam, and run my way to this point, the piece de resistance of the Rugged Maniac Race: the “Sui-slide.” A ten foot wall followed by a fifteen foot cargo net climb to the top of a giant, black plastic covered water slide of glory.

I grasp the rope with both hands working to find a comfortable grip and it hits me that maybe this race is the most perfect metaphor for life I have ever experienced. (Seriously people, this is the kind of stuff that happens when you’re an introverted contemplative that writes; I’m really not creative enough to make this stuff up). Anyway, Hebrews 12:1-2 came to mind:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

I’ve typically heard this verse in context of a life is a marathon not a sprint teaching. Which is true, but in real life a marathon sounds so awful I’ve never had any desire to attempt one. For me, running is just so boring. And like I said, I kind of tend to live all up in my head so when I’m bored all I can think about is how much “this sucks” and “I don’t want to do it” and “why am I doing this again” and “yeah that is not a good enough reason” and then I quit.  Runners, please don’t write me emails about the mythical runner’s high you all claim I will eventually reach where my body finds some magical rhythm that propels me almost effortlessly. I have never discovered that mystical place nor do I intend to run far enough to find it.

So, obviously, the whole marathon illustration has never quite sunk in before, except to remind me that life is super long and seems more difficult than I am capable of (so don’t give up!). An obstacle course, however, in a weird way is easier for me in that it breaks up some of the mental battle. By the time I tough my way through one obstacle I’m looking ahead for the next and my physical training is really able to push to the forefront.

Life as an obstacle course also seems to be on par with my experience. You slide down into a muddy pit and have to claw your way up the steep bank and back to solid ground; temptation slips you down into a mucky pit of sin and you have to fight your way back out. You face a dark tunnel that seems impossible, being extremely claustrophobic, and decide to avoid it, but end up looking back on the experience and wondering what would have been if you had decided to push through it. You struggle your way over an eight foot wall only to find another wall on the other side.

It’s not all difficulty requiring Herculean efforts though, and neither is life. There’s the laughter and camaraderie in running with close friends. The feeling of connection to the body of racers just as crazy as you were to sign up for this; like the church body united in fellowship with pursuit of a common goal. The exhilaration of discovering you’re more capable than you had realized. The hope of the finish line and the after-party and an ice cold beer shared in celebration of life well run.

It’s twisting your ankle before you start, nearly pulling a muscle climbing, scraping your legs bloody on rocks in the mud pit and continuing to race anyway. Striving to be like Jesus, our ultimate example, who through keeping focused on the joy before him endured something far more horrific than we will ever have to face. We turn up our mud spattered faces from the difficulties at hand and see Him looking at us eyes blazing in glory and we find the deep courage He has placed in us to get our work well done.

To say in confidence with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Much to the chagrin of the chiseled guy struggling to gain purchase next to me, I made it up that muddy wall unassisted after only a couple tries. I even got to help pull up a friend who began to lose traction nearly at the top. We made it up the rough, swaying cargo net one hand and foot hold at a time. And I stood in exaltation for a moment at the top, looking over the rest of the course, catching glimpses of the giant obstacles to come, and I chose to slide down with abandon back into the rugged maniac life.

Photo taken at 10:49 Register for Rugged Maniac at www.ruggedmaniac.comPhoto taken at 11:03Register for Rugged Maniac at www.ruggedmaniac.com

That’s me in the middle. 🙂 Don’t give up on your race, friends! We are promised the work will be more than worth it. Are there any obstacles are you currently facing in your journey to knowing Him more?

 

 

Weary

Here at the Marsden household we are officially half way through summer. In the past four weeks I have: attended high school and junior high summer camps, gone to the dentist, served jury duty, hosted a junior high BBQ, attended one rehearsal dinner and two weddings (one of which my kids were involved in), gotten my hair done, hosted a BBQ potluck with our neighbors, watched Logan’s first T-Ball game, and babysat my two adorable nieces for four days (read: 6 kids under 7yrs). So, yeah, I’m a bit worn out.

What’s been more difficult than being so exhausted that I fall asleep as I’m falling into bed, is the spiritual weariness that has accompanied the physical. A fellow Redbud, Trillia Newbell, described the soul-deep feeling of utter exhaustion in a recent article for Women of God Magazine as “a season of despondency.” My soul reacted to those words and they’ve been stuck in my head since. “Me too, sister!” cries my overworked heart.

I feel like the oscillating fan in my front room; spinning with all my might but not accomplishing much more than blowing hot air. I catch myself sighing deeply and mentally reverting to my unending struggles with pursuing purpose in the midst of the mundane. The current laundry pile is high as my apathy.

I reached the zenith of my despondency at the opening ceremonies of Logan’s T-Ball league Friday night. I drove up to the baseball field swarming with little sluggers already stressed. I had spent the last half hour trying to find one of Logan’s tennis shoes which had inconveniently vanished, never to be found, so he was wearing his uniform with flip flops. Since he wouldn’t actually be playing I was hoping this would somehow go unnoticed.

My husband, Mike, was working so I had all four kids in a crowded sports complex solo. I lug my giant (but indispensable) double stroller out and load the two littles only to discover two flat tires. I’m then left having to herd my four sweet children like a bunch of freewheeling cats across the parking lot and infield. Then I’m faced with the no less daunting task of finding my son’s team (did I mention all the teams wear the same reversible blue/white uniform shirt and I hadn’t actually been to a practice yet so I had to rely on my five year old’s ability to distinguish his coach out of the sea of faces?). His coach looks at him appraisingly and immediately comments on his lack of appropriate footwear. While wrestling my squirming 17 month old into what must have appeared to be an MMA-style submission hold, I avoid eye contact and mumble a lame excuse promising to have proper shoes for tomorrow’s game.

I got off the field and the despondency crashed down with such force I thought I might be crushed under it. And I DO NOT CRY. My eyes watered and my chest felt tight as I dug through the diaper bag to find the pacifier I was praying to be there. In my frantic near publicly losing my mind moment, just seconds away from giving into the temptation to upend the diaper bag behind the bleachers, I find myself pulling a note card with faded ink out of its recesses.

I memorize a verse a month by writing it down on a note card and keeping it in my car to typically review when I head out to pick up the big kids from school. For such a time as this, this card had fallen out and ended up in my bag. And wouldn’t you just know God chose for me to see at that moment Galatians 6:9:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Talking my experience over with Mike later that night I gained further clarity on my feelings. I am not in a harvesting season. I am in a stand-firm-do-not-give-up season. Which is simultaneously encouraging and a bit depressing, honestly. But, I’m promised a season is coming to reap the benefits of the sometimes wearying, despondency inducing, exhausting work of doing good.

If I do not give up.

As sorely tempted as I am to ride out the rest of the summer hiding under the covers with my Kindle (if only! haha), I’m not going to quit investing the small talents I’m given trusting it’s proving I’m capable of more later. Which is kind of a scary thought if I think about it too much.

The day after the opening night fiasco I left the house early totally prepared with everything we needed: uniform, hat, cleats (never did find that other shoe), water, and sunblock. I was back on my A-game! Until we unloaded from the car and reached the field and I realized I hadn’t even considered that Logan would need his baseball glove and there was no time for me to run home for it.

Well, fine. Even if I have to humble myself in front of the coach again and ask if there is a glove my appropriately clad son could borrow, please? I. Will. Not. Give. Up.

 

 

 

Faith

I have never shot a gun.  Nothing against them, we own several, I’ve just never gotten around to it or sought out the opportunity.  I’ve certainly never hunted and I haven’t fished since I was a little kid.  I like camping as long as there are flushing toilets, hot showers, not too many mosquitoes, and no wild animals bigger than a bunny.  You’re getting the picture I am not a country girl, right?  I told my husband one of my main requirements for wherever we live is that I cannot be more than ten minutes from the nearest Target.

We have some close friends however, that I would consider “country folk.”  They live out on a beautiful property with a pond, donkeys, llamas, chickens, and goats.  Literally one of the most exciting features for them when they first moved out there was that they would be able to shoot turkey and geese from their back porch.  Though still completely foreign to me, I’ve learned a bit about this lifestyle as we’ve been friends for nearly ten years now.  One thing that sticks out in particular is the negotiation of duck season.  It seems a complex hand of cards; I’ll raise you one purse/mani/pedi for next Saturday’s tags/ammo/possible-taxidermy-expenses.  Seriously, you might be a redneck if you have both a favorite and least favorite taxidermist.

When these friends told me about their favorite new show a couple years ago called “Duck Dynasty,” I just assumed it wouldn’t be something that I would be able to relate to.  Like much of the rest of America though, after finally catching an episode, I’m hooked.  I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover the family on the show loves the Lord and is using their popularity to showcase their faith.  I recently watched THIS short video testimony the family patriarch, Phil Robertson, gave telling of how he came to a life-changing, saving relationship with the Lord.  He said something in the last ten seconds that I thought was simply beautiful, and rather profound.  He closes his story by saying, “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all, about the only hope you have is He not be there.  What we’re saying is, we trust that He is.”

Those true words of faith have been rolling around my mind since I heard them.  They’ve been bumping into countless other quotes and phrases I tend to collect when I’m studying.  My mind is typically an unorganized grab-bag of information.  The women I do Bible study with Wednesday nights know how often I struggle to remember where I’ve learned something.  This is in part due to the way my brain seems to work, or not work.  (Scatterbrained would be a gentle way to put it).  It’s also because I am just a nerd for Bible study and tend to study in multiple places at once.  For the last month or so I’ve found myself involved in studying, either in a group setting or alone, Genesis, Nehemiah, Hebrews, and James.  I believe God has a perfect timing and purpose in revealing scripture to us, but it was still somewhat surprising when the words of a redneck, long-bearded believer began to attract other similar themes like a giant magnet reaching the dark corners of my mind.

Faith is most commonly defined in the Bible as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).”  Faith is at the heart of every relationship with God and is so complexly entwined with how we live out what we profess to believe, it can be hard to see where it ends and another concept begins.  I’m hoping you’re game to join me on my journey this month in looking at how the larger theme of faith plays out in varied but related ways in the scriptures I’m pursuing.  We have quite a bit of ground to cover so I’m praying I strike the right balance of giving a faithful glimpse of the larger text, as well as not keeping you up all night reading.  Get comfortable, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) as we look at three things a living faith requires as well as its results and fulfillment.

What does eating forbidden fruit, leaving your family and city life, and participating in a wrestling match with God have in common?  The opportunity to show faith through obedience.  Genesis is full of stories of ordinary people given the opportunity to either obey or disobey God’s commands.  Adam and Eve disobeyed the one rule given to them, bringing sin and its destructive effects into the world.  Abraham showed his faith in the promises the Lord had spoken to him by relocating from his comfortable ‘modern’ city life to tents in the desert.  Personally, I’m struck by the obedience of his wife, Sarah, who must have been slack-jawed to learn God had spoken to her husband and that they were now moving to the middle of nowhere with the promise that somehow in their struggle with infertility a great nation would be produced.  Can you even imagine how that conversation went down, husband to wife?!  Then there’s the mysterious wrestling match in Genesis 32 where Jacob’s hip ends up being put out of joint as a physical reminder of his need for obedience to God’s will.

These examples remind us that faithful obedience to God’s will does not mean just trying to be a “good person.”  God asked much of these heroes of faith and in return for their obedience they caught a glimpse of the faithfulness of God Himself.  True obedience can be costly.  It can cost us time, money, and/or relationships.  It forces us to evaluate our priorities and decide if the risk of what could be lost is worth the potential reward to be gained.  To me, one of the scariest risks is always relational.  What if obeying what the Lord has asked of me makes people look down on me?  If I’m the only mom in the group that is really conservative with TV and movie options for my kids, do I risk being labeled a prude if I know it’s something the Lord has shown me is important for my family?  Am I willing to give some of our limited funds to obey my responsibility of tithing to my church?  Will I give up a couple hours of my lazy Sunday to attend a church?  Where are you feeling especially called to be obedient to what God is teaching you?

Then there’s the other side of this evaluation: where are you missing out on God’s blessing due to disobedience?  We don’t always want to acknowledge our struggles with purity, honesty, drunkenness, envy, gluttony, or any other vice as actually being obedience issues, but Christians are called to holy lives submitted to God’s way of doing life.  Certainly we have great freedom in Christ, but if we’re claiming to know Him and living lives that have no regard for the Spirit’s conviction within us, then something is wrong.  I hope we can have the courage to ask Him to reveal our disobedience to us, and then to be granted the wisdom and strength to get right with Him.

Once our faith filled hearts will obediently submit to God’s way, it’s time to start living out that faith through our actions.  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” James asks us (Jas 2:14).  I want to clarify that we are saved by God’s grace with us through our faith in Christ’s sacrifice, not by anything we can accomplish on our own.  That being said, James is adamant that, “faith apart from works is useless (Jas 2:20).”  He challenges us to, “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Jas 2:18).”  Maybe this is an obvious question, but what good is your faith?  Is your life wholly affected by what you believe?  Do the people around us benefit from the fruit of the Spirit we produce in our lives?

If we are really living the good, growing life of faith it should be spilling over into every facet of our daily lives.  If we are faithfully maturing and seeking to become more like Christ each day then we will not be able to compartmentalize a “Sunday Christian” self we bring out once a week.  Let’s not rob ourselves by waiting until Sunday to act on the faith we have access to every day of the week.  Bottom line, let’s do something about what we believe:

“One good deed is of more worth than a thousand brilliant theories.  Let us not wait for large opportunities, or for a different kind of work, but do just the things we find to do day by day.  We have no other time in which to live.  The past is gone; the future has not arrived; we never shall have any time but the present… No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Devotional).”

Our service cannot be the basis of true faith (look at all the good stuff I do, I must be saved!), but it will be the result of it (this freedom is such a gift, I want to show everyone how great it is!).  I am not earning my salvation, I am living it.  Earning implies there is something I’m lacking, but I’ve already got my reward in Christ.  If we say we believe, then we should act like it.

I pray you’ll take a minute for a self evaluation to make sure your “faith walk lines up with your faith talk.”  I don’t know about you, but James gets me fired up to sprint out the gate and do some good in the world!  Much of the time though, living our faith is more of a marathon than a sprint.  That’s the analogy I found in Hebrews for the importance of endurance in our faith.  The author of Hebrews is writing a sermon-of-a-letter encouraging believers to hold on to their faith through the trials they are facing; that this hope would anchor them so they will not be tempted to drift away.

The author, who is unknown, has a lot to say on the subject of faith, and there’s an entire section that outlines the lives of the great heroes of faith (see Hebrews 11).  He then points out that these superstars that have gone before us are now surrounding us; imagine a large stadium with all of them in the stands watching us and cheering us on, their stories inspiring us to keep going when we struggle to inch on.  I envision myself approaching the starting line, svelte and strong, ready to run the spiritual Olympic marathon of my life.  I’ve already thrown aside the training weights; the sin I so often choose to carry with me that the author warns of in chapter 12, verse 16.

Svelte and strong are not how we’re described in the text, though.  We’re described in verse 12 as having “drooping hands” and “weak knees.”  We are runners with injuries, scarred and broken from our run ins with the snares of the world.  And yet, no one is too injured for this race, there is no wound that cannot be miraculously healed in the running.  It’s the sitting on the sidelines or the running off-course where we get ourselves into trouble.  As long as we keep moving forward along the straight and narrow path, even if only at a snail’s pace at times, we will eventually share in the glorious culmination ceremony which awaits us on the other side of the finish line.

Through obedience, by our actions, with endurance, faith gets results.  In the book of the same name, Nehemiah’s life is set before us as part historical document, part memoir.  The book covers thirty years of his life, starting when he is a young man with the high position of cupbearer to the king, tells the amazing journey of uniting the people of Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, his promotion to governor, his zeal for God’s word, and his many reforms to help bring the people of God back into a right relationship with Him.  By faith, Nehemiah spent his life not pursuing the promising political career he was already positioned for, but instead using his influence to further the visible manifestation of God in the world and to lead others to a reformed relationship with the God of their fathers.  A wall was built in 52 days and God’s people confessed their sins and turned back to Him in true worship.

If my faith rests in a power greater than myself, then there is no task that is too great for me to accomplish through this divine enabling.  It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20 that, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”  I had always thought this meant my faith must be microscopic since I’ve never moved an ant-hill, let alone a mountain.  It struck me just recently though that maybe I should be focusing on the size of the mountain instead of the mustard.  Maybe the results of our faith are so hugely disproportionate to the amount of faith we bring that instead of feeling convicted for my lack, I can feel comforted in God’s ability to more than make up for it.  All Nehemiah, or you or I, have to offer is this one life, which in comparison to the extraordinary scope of the cosmos seems inconsequential, but that can be used by the infinite Almighty God to leave an enduring mark in this age and the age to come.  What results will God achieve with the amount of faith we place in Him?

In the end, it is where we place our faith that makes all the difference.  Faith can be placed in the spiritual, mystical, physical, scientific, relational, economical, cultural, or counter-cultural.  I’m not going to waste our time running down any of those rabbit trails except to say I know the One truly worthy of our trust.  Anything else we turn to is just a cheap, twisted imitation of the truth He brings.  Whether we accept it or not, all things are from Him and through Him and to Him (Romans 11:36).

Hebrews 12:2 calls him, “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”  This is the bedrock where we can safely anchor our faith.  In faith, Jesus was completely obedient to the will of the Father, from living a life without sin to His torturous execution.  In faith, Jesus acted upon His love for His Father by demonstrating His great love for us.  He fed the hungry, healed the sick, sought out the marginalized, taught the seeking, and forgave sinners.  In faith, Jesus, “endured  the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2),” and running ahead to pave the straight and narrow course we continue in His pursuit.  Jesus’ faith results in His being seated at the right hand of the Father and offers us the opportunity for a deeply personal, intimate relationship with Father, Son, and indwelling Holy Spirit that will change your life for eternity.

He doesn’t care if you’re a redneck that owns a beer joint or an urban erudite, a DINK (dual income no kids) or a Duggar.  Who you think you are holds no weight against who He says you are in Him.  You are made perfect through His sacrifice, you are an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven, and by His wounds you can be healed.  Precious child, run into the strong arms of the Father who is already running to you.

Or you can place all the faith you have that He not be there.  All I’m saying, is that I have faith that He is.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  Hebrews 11:6

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