Applying Critical Thinking to your Faith

goalContinued from here.

As I wrap up this series on tough questions, I encourage you not to be afraid to ask God your own tough questions. I did not receive a quick answer to any of these questions that I asked. Some took years of wrestling before I received an answer. At the end of that period, I found more than an answer – I found a deeper relationship with God!

The Bible tells us that we will find God when we seek Him with all our hearts. As we wrestle with the tough questions, search for answers in His Word, and spend time with God in prayer over them, we are seeking so much more than answers – we are seeking God!

I teach a college-level critical thinking class and encourage my students to apply critical thinking to their faith, regardless of whichever faith they have (or none at all). This surprises many students because there’s a pervasive belief that if we apply critical thinking to a religious faith, we’ll see that the religion is a bunch of bunk. So, we must choose between being rational or having faith.

My experience has been just the opposite! During my 11-year period of rejecting God, I applied critical thinking to every aspect of the Christian faith, which is how I arrived at many of the answers I have shared in this series. My belief then – which continues today – is that a faith (or God) that cannot withstand scrutiny is not worth believing in. If God is who He says He is, then my questioning should consistently result in truth – and it has! My faith is very strong today because of that season of questioning and the answers I received.

Don’t take my word for. Experience this for yourself! What are the hard questions that stand in the way of embracing a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God? Ask HIM! Search the Bible for answers. Pray. Meditate on what you find. Consider the questions from different perspectives, including whether you are even asking the right question! Sometimes our questions are, by nature, self-focused, so they need to be redefined to broaden our perspective before those questions can be answered.

If you will do this, then as you seek your answers, you will be seeking God. And God has promised that when you seek Him, you will find Him if you seek Him with your whole heart. So, don’t do this halfway. If you really want the answers, then put forth the effort to seek them, and don’t rest until you have them. At the end of journey, you’ll find more than your answers – you’ll find God!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace kicking a soccer ball into the net: “Goal!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Strong Do I Really Need to Be?

workin_itContinued from here.

As I have shared previously, I’ve been through some really tough situations – child abuse, my father’s sudden death when I was 16, infertility, the adoption process, and parenting a child with special needs. To say I have lived a difficult life is an understatement. I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” My response was always, “How strong do I really need to be?”

It turns out that neither of those quotes are from the Bible. There’s nothing in the Bible indicating that God’s goal in allowing large problems in our lives is to build our strength, nor does the Bible say that God stops the waters once we have reached the point that our strength will give out.

Think about it: Jesus was crucified. David fought Goliath. Daniel spent the night in the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace. These were all situations that went well beyond their strength. None of them got through those situations because they were strong. Instead, they got through them because they had a big God.

I have grown to learn that God isn’t interested in building my strength. Instead, He is interested in building my dependency upon Him. That’s why Jesus said we are the branches that are attached to the vine (Jesus) and can do nothing without him. God doesn’t allow mammoth problems in my life to build my strength. He allows them to build my faith, which is worth more than gold.

I’m still learning to accept trials, and I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll greet trials with joy (pure or otherwise). However, I am learning that dependency on God is the key to surviving the trials. I’ll tell God that I have put all of my eggs in His basket, so either He comes through, or I’ll fall. There is no third option.

When you face circumstances that are beyond your strength, remember that the key to surviving them is dependency upon God. Lean on Him, and trust that He will get you through this. God will work even this situation for good. Focus on loving God and doing His will. He will take care of the rest.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running on a treadmill while holding dumbbells over the words, “Workin’ it.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Do You Know that God Will Show Up?

im_waitingContinued from here.

One of the more challenging aspects of God’s character for me is His tendency to show up at what I perceive as the 11th hour. My preference is for Him to show up early so I can rest assured that He is going to take care of my problem. However, God wants me to grow my faith, trusting that He is going to show up despite seeing no evidence of Him doing so beyond His promise to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I know that I love Him, and I actively seek to fulfill His purpose by doing His will, so I know that He will work even this (whatever “this” is) for good.

Oftentimes, I find myself in a position of submitting to God’s authority but still having to wait … and wait … and wait for Him to show up. This passage from the Psalms is the one I lean on when I am in a holding pattern and waiting on God:

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. ~ Ps. 91:4

Because God has been faithful before, I find it easier to believe that He will be faithful again. Whenever I am tempted to doubt that God will show up, I remind myself that the story is not over yet. If we ended the story on Friday, Jesus would still be in the tomb. We had to get to Sunday before God showed up. We are often tempted to give up on God on Friday or Saturday, ending the story in defeat. We must hold on to the hope the God WILL show up and not give up until He does.

The bottom line is that you either trust God or you don’t. You either believe that He loves you and will take care of you, or you don’t. Beth Moore hit me right between the eyes at one of her Living Proof Live events when she said that dread is advertising God’s unfaithfulness. In other words, when I tell people that I fear God won’t show up, my life becomes a billboard advertising God’s unfaithfulness. However, when I trust and truly BELIEVE that God will show up and work EVEN THIS for good, I advertise the faithfulness of God.

Of course, we have to do our part as well. There’s no promise for God to work all situations for good for those who do not love Him or those who are willfully disobedient to Him. As long as you love God and are intentionally trying to live out His will, He will show up. If He hasn’t, that means your story isn’t over yet.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her hip, standing next to an hourglass and saying, “I’m waiting.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Do You Know That God Exists?

i_dont_knowContinued from here.

After my father died unexpectedly when I was 16 years old, I walked away from my faith for 11 years. I questioned my faith to its very core, including how I could even know that God exists. After all, I cannot see Him or touch Him, so how could I be sure that He even exists?

My answer to that question today is simple: I have no other explanation for the amazing transformation that has taken place in me … a transformation that has been so profound that numerous people in my life have noticed and commented upon it. Let me give you a snapshot of the “before” and “after:”

Before After
Intense self-loathing Self-acceptance, even of my many quirks
Binge eating disorder Healthy diet and exercise with a steady, healthy weight
Judgmental with a potty mouth Compassionate and accepting of people exactly where they are & absence of profanity
Control freak Patient and much more comfortable in dealing with change and the unknown
Extremely self-absorbed Progressively more focused on deferring my own preferences to others
Constant complainer who was driven by intense emotions in the aftermath of child abuse Progressively choosing gratitude over grumbling by choosing to focus on the blessings rather than the problems
Very bitter and unforgiving I have fully forgiven everyone who has ever wronged me, including my childhood abusers.
People pleaser who avoided confrontation at all costs Assertive person who truly does not care what other people think of me, as long as God loves me.
Rebellious, manipulative, and distrusting of authority Trust that God is in control, and I submit to authority out of love for God.

People with my history of child abuse and aftereffects of suicidal urges, self-injury, eating disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, insomnia, etc. don’t experience the level of transformation that has happened to me, even after years of therapy. I was told in therapy to be realistic about my therapy goals, and the changes I have undergone would not have been “realistic” … and yet they happened. I have no other explanation other than that there is, in fact, a God who is more powerful than my brokenness was.

I can relate to the man who Jesus healed of blindness in his conversation with the Pharisees:

A second time they [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God by telling the truth,’ they said. ‘We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner.’
He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’ ~ John 9:24-24

You ask how I know there is a God. My response is simple: “One thing I do know. I was broken, but now I’m healed.”

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace scratching her head and saying,  “I don’t know.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Where is God Right Now While I am Suffering?

u_thereContinued from here.

Perhaps your suffering is not something that happened in the past, which you are still trying to recover from. Perhaps it is, instead, taking place right now, and you are wondering where God is while you wrestle with this problem. You have a medical diagnosis that doesn’t look good … or your marriage is falling apart … or you have lost someone you love … or you have lost your job and cannot find another one … or you feel forgotten, unnoticed, and unloved … Where is God right now while you are suffering in this very moment?

The answer is the same as what I shared here. God’s promise never to leave you or forsake you is just as true today as it was when you were hurt 30 years ago. God does not change. He sees you and deeply cares that you are suffering. God can — and will — work even this for good if you will cooperate with Him.

While you are in the midst of the trial, it’s hard to believe that God cares, that He is with You, and that He can bring good out of a very bad situation. This is when your past experience with God can help you endure through the current trial. This passage of scripture is particularly helpful to me during times of trial:

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” ~ Ps. 91:4

God’s faithfulness is your strongest protection during trials because if you can remember His faithfulness from before, then you can more easily believe that He will be faithful again. Nothing you experience is outside of God’s ability to transform into good. See Corrie Ten Boom’s story or Joni Eareckson Tada’s story for examples of how God can take terrible tragedies and turn them into amazing victories!

This is my story as well. What Satan intended for harm (severe child abuse), God has used for good. He has given me a new heart, and I have brought hope and healing to many child abuse survivors over the years. Life threw many lemons my way, and I have worked with God to make lots of lemonade for the people I encounter in my life.

NOTHING that you are suffering right now falls outside of God’s power to redeem it. He can transform the ashes of your pain into something beautiful. If He can do it for me, then He can do it for you!

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking over the words, “U there?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Where was God When I was Being Hurt?

where_are_youContinued from here.

People who have suffered from specific events that rocked their world often ask where God was when that event was happening. They often believe that God left them, didn’t notice them, or ignored their suffering. I wrestled with this question over the child abuse I suffered. The hardest part for me to reconcile was that my abuse actually got worse after I became a Christian. While I could somewhat understand why God might not intervene on behalf of someone who didn’t know Him, I could not wrap my mind around how He could stand back and do nothing while a little girl of 8, 9, and 10 years old—who had Jesus living in her heart—was suffering from severe trauma. Where was God while I was being abused?

The answer I received was that God was right there with me – His heart breaking as He watched mine shatter. That begged the question of how He could be right there with me in a front row seat watching the harm being inflicted on my mind, body, and psyche without doing a thing to stop it. The answer I received was that He was already working on a plan to heal my pain and transform the ashes of my pain into beauty that would bless others in the future.

Many of God’s promises in the Bible are conditional upon us doing our part first. However, one critical unconditional promise is this:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Deut. 31:6

Once you receive Jesus into your heart, God will NEVER leave you or FORSAKE you. Never!! That means that whatever you suffer – even being raped as a little kid – happens with God right there next to you. God sees what happens to you, and He WILL bring justice if what you suffered was at the hands of somebody else. And as your heart is being shattered into 1,000 pieces, He is already planning how He will bind up your broken heart. In fact, He can do for you what He did for me – give you a new heart altogether!

Our God is a personal God, and He takes pain being inflicted upon His children very seriously. He is the God who sees you. He sees all that you suffer and will work even your deepest pains for good.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking through a telescope and asking, “Where are you?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

If God is in Control, Then Why Do Bad Things Happen?

failContinued from here.

If God is good and is in control, why do children suffer and die? Why do natural disasters take people’s lives? Why do we have disease … and illness … and injury? As an abused child, my version of this question was, “Why does God allow child abuse?” All of these questions are really asking the same thing: “If God is in control and is good, why do bad things happen?

The short answer I received to this question is that this is not heaven. Our souls were built for eternity in heaven with God, so living in this fallen world feels foreign … and just plain wrong!

God did not intend for the world to be like this – filled with so much suffering. God placed Adam in charge of the earth , Adam gave the reins to Satan, and then Satan became the prince of this world. When Jesus conquered Satan through the resurrection, death was overcome, but we are still stuck living in this fallen world for the time being, which means that we are going to experience suffering. It’s not just a possibility – suffering is an inevitability.

Here’s the good news, though. Jesus said,

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33

Sadly, many well-meaning people perpetuate the lie that if we are “good enough,” believe in God enough, or “avoid doing bad” often enough, then we will be spared pain and suffering, but that simply is not Biblical. Jesus was clear that in this world, we will have trouble. Suffering in this lifetime is a certainty. Thankfully, God transforms our suffering into perseverance, which leads to maturity and completeness in Him. God is the master of working all things for good, even our suffering.

While it’s disheartening to accept the reality that this life, by definition, includes suffering, embracing this truth releases us from the unrealistic expectations of having an easy/comfortable life. That’s not going to happen, so let go of that pipe dream. Instead, turn your inevitable suffering into perseverance. This will lead you to maturity and completeness, and then you will cooperate with God in turning the lemons of suffering into sweet lemonade that blesses everyone you come into contact with.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cross-eyed under the word, “Fail.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]