Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Got Faith?

Then He went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when His family heard it, they went out to seize Him, for they were saying, "He is out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-21, ESV)

Recently, a friend and I were talking about how, when trials and hard times come, it can be so tempting to give up on our faith in Christ, and go back to our old ways of dealing with the stress. The enemy whispers in our ears that not only are we failures, but that God has failed us as well, and we begin to doubt His goodness, His faithfulness, His love and grace for us.  Although we've heard God’s Word to us, seen His majesty and power at work in our lives and experienced His love and favor, provision and protection, we still begin to doubt and it’s not a far fall from there to our giving up on Jesus and giving in to old ways and temptations. We stop believing that Jesus is Who He says He is....our Savior, our Redeemer, the Lover of our soul.  My friend told me that a mutual sister-in-Christ was feeling this way as she deals with a daunting and exhausting family issue involving her siblings and their ill, aging parents, and that lately, she's battled the temptation to go back to her former lifestyle of drinking and using drugs. My friend also confessed to wrestling with that same temptation herself lately as she struggles with her own difficult family situations. She said she’s felt that she isn't a ‘good Christian,’ because her faith and belief in Jesus just isn't strong enough.  If it was, then surely her life would be a smooth ride overflowing with blessings on a daily basis, minus all the potholes of trials and temptations, sorrows and sufferings she'd been experiencing. She shared that this is what she'd been taught and told by people over the years!

I told her there are people out there teaching and preaching, in church and on TV, a gospel of health, wealth, prosperity and favor that comes as a result of placing your faith in Jesus Christ, BUT their message is twisted.  True, faith-filled followers of Christ don’t skip down a garden path continually strewn with petals of blessings and favor; there will be many seasons of difficulties, setbacks, discouragement, pain and sorrow in our lives (Jesus DID say that in this world we would have trouble).  I've found it's often a struggle to maintain your faith in Him when dark days manifest themselves, even though you’ve witnessed and experienced amazing things He’s done in your life and in the lives of other followers around you.

For instance, there's a situation in my own life with a family member that seems hopeless. I see no positive changes, only negative, discouraging ones. I’m not handling it well at all and in fact, I know my thoughtless words, reactions and immature attitudes have only made things worse. I’ve been wondering when God's Divine intervention and perfect timing are going to kick in here, because I’m about ready to give up. I shared with my friend that I too have been tempted lately to revert to my old ways of drinking, just to ease the stress and pain I'm feeling daily. My faith walk with Jesus is looking more like a weak limp or a stumbling gait. But rather than just keep this as a women's venting session, I felt I needed to turn things around. I wanted to lift up my friend and encourage her...and myself while I was at it. But what could I say?

That's when the story in Mark 3 of Jesus’s family coming to bring Him home because they thought He’d lost His mind just popped into my head. I had no idea where THAT was going to take us, but it was as if the Holy Spirit began speaking through me.

I reminded my friend that even Jesus’s own family had 'faith issues,' and didn’t believe that He was Who He said He was. They'd seen and heard about His incredible healings and other miracles, and watched as people just dropped what they were doing immediately to follow Him. Yet in this passage, here was Jesus’s mother and brothers on their way to the house where He staying, wanting to bring Him back home because they thought He was crazy (Mark 3:20-21). And that’s when it hit me.  Could Jesus’s very own mother, Mary, have actually doubted Who her son was for a time? Had her faith in Him somehow been shaken?  Mary, who was visited by the angel Gabriel with a message that she was to be the mother of the Son of God; who watched as both local lowly shepherds and upper crust wise men from afar came to pay homage to the Holy Infant she cuddled in her arms. Mary, who was an eyewitness to both Simeon’s and Anna’s joyful proclamations that her Child was indeed the long awaited Messiah. Mary who, along with her husband, Joseph, after searching for 3 daysand finally finding an MIA 12 yr. old Jesus, listened as He told them that He was to be about His Father's business.  Had she forgotten about these things? Did she think it was all just a dream? Because here she is now, heading out with the family unit and thinking her Son is a lunatic.

Now, I grew up in the Catholic church, and heard countless sermons about how pure, holy and perfect Mary was.  Yet here in this gospel account that I’ve read over many times since coming into a relationship with Christ, it suddenly jumps out to me that Mary herself seemed to have stumbled into a pit of unbelief for a season. She struggled just as we struggle!  This different view and understanding of this Scripture was SUCH a revelation for my friend and I as we continued with our discussion. Who are we to think that we should be any better, stronger and more faith-filled than Mary? Or that we are failures as Christ followers because we have moments of weakened faith? Or that we should just give up on ourselves and on Jesus and go back to being who we used to be?!

Thankfully, God doesn’t cast us aside or give up on us when we struggle with doubt or unbelief. On the contrary, He loves us anyway, waiting patiently for us to come back to our senses, while continuing to move in our difficult circumstances and inviting us to run to, lean on, trust in, look for and worship Him in the midst of them. Because He knows the great plans that He has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  God had great plans for Mary. We see later that once her doubt was removed and her faith was refreshed, she follows Jesus all the way to the cross, tearfully rooted at the foot of it that day, standing by her Son, while all but one of Jesus’s best buds, who earlier had pledged total devotion and allegiance to Him, were back at the upper room, cowering in fear and broken faith, no doubt in need of a change of undergarments.   And then, in the book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the crowd in the upper room during Pentecost, Mary is right there to receive Him along with all of Jesus’s other disciples.  She's ready to move out, share the Gospel and continue to be used by God.  And so can we, despite our own wrestling matches with doubt and weak faith.  Because there will continue to be days when we stumble and fall in our walk of faith.  So remember Mary's story. We’re in good company, dear ones; we’re not alone.

 I hear you say you're alone
I hear you saying that you'll never make it
I've got to tell you you're wrong
'Cause I have been down this path you're taking
You never know what faith is
'Til you don't understand
Sometimes it takes a silence
To finally hear His plan

Oh, listen to the sound of hope that's rising
Up over your horizon
Listen to the sound, listen to the sound
And listen to the sound of a new beginning
Oh, this is where the old is ending
Listen to the sound, listen to the sound ~ Building 429

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