Friday, June 6, 2014

God Meets us When our Faith is Small

He said to them, "Because of your little faith.
For truly, I say to you, 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." 
Matthew 17:20

The last few weeks I have been writing about spiritual abuse for a big project I am doing and it's been tough to do research on this topic. One of the most vulnerable places in this world is the church. There are several reasons for this. First, when most people seek out a church they are really looking for God. They may not realize that they are equating the church with God but they most often are. Second, it is also vulnerable because most people know believers are supposed to love and they come into church expecting the church to love better than the world, but. Sadly, that isn't always the case. Third, we are called to live transparent lives and to confess sin to one another. But not every church member is trust worthy and the information we share isn't always treated with respect. Fourth, we are called to confront and to forgive one another. Many people in the church find it hard to forgive, hard to apologize, and most of us hate to confront. These are very vulnerable actions that come with risk. After all, we can't control others and can't force them to repent, apologize, forgive, or hear our criticism even when it is bathed in love. In fact, the church is just full of growing people, not perfect people as we often expect.

Out of all the kinds of abuses I have studied, spiritual abuse has made me the most angry, because it strikes at our most vulnerable need--the need to know our Creator. Spiritual abuse has been around for a very long time. It was addressed in the Old Testament and it was addressed strongly by Jesus. Spiritual abuse takes place when churches aren't structured correctly and leaders place themselves between people and God. It takes place when legalism is present and people add stuff to the finished work of Jesus. It takes place when leaders or church members misuse the Scriptures to shame and humiliate others.

One of the things I read in my research brought back memories of being a young adult and trying to figure out what this thing called the Christian life was all about. I went to pretty good churches, but I was so spiritually hungry that I would watch religious programing and didn't realize that some of it was not true to the Word and some of the teaching was a breeding ground for spiritual abuse. One of the things I hate most about spiritual abuse is that it tends to bind people to shame rather than to show them the heart of God. One type of abuse that occurs is the misuse of the promises found in God's Word. I remember seeing some of that on the television programs, but have also heard stories from people first hand who have had some pretty ugly things said to them concerning promises. The verse above is one of those verses that gets misused and thrown into people's faces. Some people teach that you can ask for anything and, if your faith is strong enough, you will get it. A reading of Hebrews 11 should help us see that isn't always so. Many people in that chapter received great blessings for their faith, but others who were commended for their great faith died waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

I've heard several stories of people who were either struggling with cancer or had children that did. I have heard of a case where a person was prayed for and by the time he got to the specialist no cancer was found and I have no problem believing God chose to do that. But, I have also known people who prayed hard and believed hard and their bodies or their children weren't healed. Some of them received notes or visits from friends who said they must not have believed hard enough or were told that they must have sin in their lives preventing a healing. I get angry just thinking about those comments. Who are we, to judge people for the ways that God chooses to work? The above verse indicates it only takes a little faith to see God work. A story found in Mark 9:14-29 has some interesting things in it.

In this story, Jesus came found His disciples in a debate with scribes. Jesus asks what they are arguing about and it wasn't the disciples or the scribes who answer, it was a father. He had brought his
deaf and mute son to the disciples to be healed of a demonic spirit who had tortured him most of his life. When the demon manifested, it would cause the boy to seize and would cause him to fall--sometimes he had even fallen into fire and into water. I cannot even imagine what this father had gone through in trying to protect his son and to find healing for him. He had asked the disciples to cast the demon out and they couldn't so he says to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!" Interestingly, Jesus doesn't immediately turn to the son and heal him as I expected him to. He deals with the father and the issue in his heart first. He does this by reflecting the mans words back to him, "If you can!" Then he tells the man, "All things are possible for one who believes." The desperate man cries so honestly, "I believe, help my unbelief!" and Jesus heals his son by casting out the destructive demon.

Jesus was kind and compassionate towards the hurting. He is omniscient and He knew how long the man had suffered with his son. He knew the man has spent years watching the demon torment and destroy the son he loved. He knew the man had even just witnessed the failure of his own disciples to cast the demon out. Because of this, I don't believe, like some might, that his tone was harsh. His purpose in talking with the man was to help him see that with all that he had been through his view of Jesus had become tainted. He wanted the man to see that the long suffering he had watched his son endure had become a stumbling block to his faith. Jesus lovingly was drawing the man to Himself. He was not just healing the son, he was healing the heart of the father so that his faith would be restored and strengthened. 

If we are really honest, most of us would have to admit that we all have had things that have hindered our ability to fully trust God and His ways. Maybe it was years of praying for a mom to give up her drugs so she could love and care for children. Maybe it was years of praying for safety from a sexual predator that never seemed to be heard. Maybe it was years of watching a child be eaten with cancer that medicine couldn't stop. Maybe  it's the longing for a husbands safe return from battle, but being presented with a flag at his grave instead. Maybe its watching a beautiful young daughter starve herself to death because she believes she's defective, too much, not enough, unredeemable, and a host of other lies. Maybe it's besetting sin for which we repeatedly seek God's help, but find the tentacles of the stronghold of sin draining our hope away. Maybe its our own intellect combined with our inability to accept that God's ways are not our ways, so we choose to hold on to what we think is reasonable and be come skeptical.

The possible hindrances to faith are many and Jesus knows that and he knows each of us individually. Maybe, what we might perceive as a lack of response or inactivity on God's part have really been His grace and His love in action. Maybe He's waits to answer the obvious so He can deal with the underlying issues of our wavering hearts. Maybe He hesitates to answer so that we will be brought face to face with the doubts that lie hidden under masks that belie our unbelief. Maybe He waits to respond until we are desperate enough to become radically honest with Him and with ourselves so that we cry out to Him as honestly as this man did. Then He begins to act in ways we see and His plans fully unfold--plans that may fulfill our desires or plans that may not. But, plans that will allow us to witness the richness of His love, His glory, and His grace--His grace that whispers into wounded, wavering hearts, "Your mustard-seed-sized faith has always been enough." 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!