When Loved Ones Fall Away, Part 3

“RETURN TO ME.”  God repeated this plea over and over when His children turned away from Him.  He told them that He would not be angry with them if they would only acknowledge their sin against Him (Jeremiah 3:12,13).  He promised to heal them if they would return to Him (v. 22).  Perhaps the saddest words of all regarding Israel are found in Jeremiah 3:7.  “And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’  But she did not return” (emphasis mine).

Are you worried about someone who has yet to return?  Have you spent hours pleading and praying?  God understands.  Remember, He loves the soul of the wayward even more than we do.

Excerpts from the book RETURN TO ME due out in February:

From chapter five, “Keep Praying”–

Prayer is the ultimate litmus test because it is colored by our attitude.  The command to pray in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is sandwiched between the commands to rejoice and be thankful.  We’re to have a joyful, prayerful, thankful mentality, especially when working with others, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (v. 18).  It’s too easy to get caught up in the exact opposite.  Perhaps we feel unable to rejoice because we are filled with anxiety or discouragement.  After praying endlessly for someone without seeing any “results,” it’s tempting to think God no longer hears or cares.  And instead of being thankful, we become resentful.  What can we do?  Rejoice, pray, give thanks anyway.

From chapter six, “Let Go of the Guilt”–

“The soul who sins shall die.  The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).  This entire chapter in Ezekiel is about some confusion the Israelites had about sons bearing the guilt of their fathers and vice versa.  God wanted them to understand that each one will be held accountable for his own actions, and his alone.  Notice also, “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity…shall he live?  All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (v. 24).  The Lord concludes with “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways” (v. 30).  Just as children cannot stand in judgment on the basis of their parents’ goodness, parents will not stand in judgment on the basis of their grown children’s waywardness.  

Chapter seven is entitled “Warn the Wanderer” and deals with what our responsibility is and what our responsibility is not as we reach out to the wayward.  It also covers our objectives, what we hope to accomplish with the warnings.  Excerpt from chapter seven–

The Israelites thought their punishment would be brief.  Their hearts remained hard because they couldn’t believe God would allow them to remain in captivity.  After all, they were His people and He loved them.  Jeremiah, also writing to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity, pointed out their delusion.  He told them to build houses, plant gardens, marry, and have children because they had seventy years of captivity ahead of them (Jeremiah 29:5,6, 10).  But why did the Israelites believe, in the first place, that God would be easy on them?  Because they were deceived by false prophets who simply told them what they wanted to hear (Jeremiah 29:8,9).  How frightening to think that there are those who will tell our wayward loved ones what they want to hear!  They will offer false peace.  The wayward may relax, convinced that God just wants them to be happy, that His grace covers everything.  We must warn the wanderer that there are those whose teaching leads to destruction, whether intentionally or not (2 Peter 2:1,2).  

This concludes the excerpts I’ll be sharing from the book.  Thank you to all who have offered your encouragement!  And to those who have requested prayers for your wayward loved ones, know that I will continue praying for them and for you.

Image credit:  Michael Hite

Image credit: Michael Hite

When Loved Ones Fall Away, Part 2

If you’ve had a loved one turn away from God, you may have asked, “HOW?”

  • How do I know what to say?
  • How do I keep from being led by my emotions?
  • How can I make sure my own faith stays strong?

Thankfully, the answers to our questions can be found in God’s faithful Word.  I have a book coming out in February (Lord willing) that deals with what to do when loved ones fall away.  Each week in December I’ll be sharing some excerpts from the book.

From chapter one– KEEP YOUR FAITH IN GOD

God’s love is nothing like man’s imperfect love.  God’s love is perfect and everlasting.  When things are going well, we are secure in that knowledge.  But sometimes when our hearts are hurting, we forget the amazing depth and enduring nature of God’s love.  Could it be Satan whispers doubts in our mind about God’s love?  Like Mrs. Job advising her husband to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), Satan’s lies begin with God to get us to turn away from Him.  When he tempted Eve, Satan mentioned God’s name three times (Genesis 3:1-5)!  To keep ourselves from ever believing Satan’s lies about God, we need to continually reacquaint ourselves with the love of God.  The Word is filled with the truth about God’s love.  Study it often so its voice will be louder than Satan’s.

From chapter four– SEEK GUIDANCE FROM GOD’S WORD

Emotions, both positive and negative, are powerful, and certainly our emotions are involved when a loved one falls away.  Our society places an emphasis on letting personal emotions guide important decisions.  “I have to follow my heart.”  “Do what feels right to you.”  The world’s mantra is that while rules are good, ultimately one should live by what feels right to them.  But feelings can be an unreliable and unsafe guide. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).  When Saul persecuted Christians, he wasn’t trying to be wicked.  He thought he was doing the right thing.  He was following his heart.  He didn’t realize his actions were contrary to God’s will.  He said, “Indeed, I myself thought…” (Acts 26:9).  He was convicted by his feelings.  His conscience never once made him question his actions (Acts 23:1).  Even good people make huge mistakes when allowing their feelings to guide them.  It wasn’t until Saul encountered Christ that he learned to “speak the words of truth and reason” (Acts 26:25).  Wise Solomon sums it all up by saying, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).  When a loved one falls away, we must be aware of the danger of being led by our feelings.  It can happen without us even realizing it.  The way to safeguard against that is to stay in the Word.  “Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed” (Psalm 119:80). 

Next week’s excerpts will deal with the subjects of prayer and guilt.  I’d love to hear from you…Have you had a loved one fall away?  Have you had to make sure your emotional response stays in line with God’s Word?  What have you done to strengthen your own faith?

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When Loved Ones Fall Away

Few things in life are more heartbreaking than having a loved one turn away from God.  The disappointment, fear, worry, and pain can be overwhelming.  How do you keep a positive attitude, go on with your own responsibilities, and hang on to hope?  How do you keep from being guided by your emotions?  What do you do with the anger?  How do you make sure your own faith stays strong? These are the types of questions I struggled with, and the questions I address in an upcoming book.  Throughout the month of December I’ll be sharing excerpts from the book.  Today I’ll share the introduction.  My prayer is that this book will strengthen and encourage those who find themselves pleading with wayward loved ones.

Introduction

It has to be true that the greater the love one has for another, the greater the pain when that love is rejected.  A mere acquaintance who does not return overtures of friendship is no heartache.  A bond forged at youth camp which promises to keep in touch “forever and ever” then gradually fizzles out causes no tears.  But when a husband of twenty or thirty years spurns the wife of his youth in favor of a more youthful wife, the pain is unbearable.  A mother whose angry son has gone the way of the world and no longer wants anything to do with her feels like her heart has been ripped from her chest.  
    Consider the greatest of all loves–the love God has for His children.  Can we really adequately grasp the depth of God’s love?  Time and distance can douse friendships.  Unfaithfulness can kill marriages.  But nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38,39)!    Even when the children of Israel rejected Him and repeatedly committed spiritual adultery, God pleaded, “Return to Me” (Jeremiah 3:1).  God is the creator of man and the creator of love.  God IS love (1 John 4:16).  What immeasurable pain, then, God must experience when His children fall away!
    Hosea’s task was difficult and his message from God was an emotional one.  The faithfulness of the Israelites was described as “a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4 NKJV).  Hosea pleaded with the children of Israel to turn from idolatry by reminding them of the loyalty of God’s love.    God said He loved them from their youth, and He taught them to walk, “taking them by their arms.”  He “drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love,” and “stooped and fed them.”  God’s tender care for His people is very apparent, and so is His hurt as He declared, “My people are bent on backsliding from Me.  Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him.”  None at all?  To spiritually lose one child is detrimental enough.  How easy, then, to understand God’s grief as He cried out, “How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, Israel?…My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (Hosea 11:1-8).
    “How can I give you up?”  So many read this passage and feel their chest tighten with sympathy.  They can completely relate to this question.  Concerning a wayward loved one, many have thought over and over, “How can I bear to let you go?”  Nothing is more grievous than having a loved one fall away from the Lord.  Losing someone in death is painful, but Christians can look forward to that happy reunion in Heaven.  Losing someone spiritually is overwhelmingly painful.   In addition to the severed relationship, there is the fear of losing a loved one eternally.  There is the loss of being able to pray, “Lord, come quickly,” for instead there is a panic that He might return and it be too late for the beloved prodigal.  
    The Father knows how we feel.  He understands.  We can turn to Him for guidance and help.  As much as we want to wring our hands, weep, and wring our hands some more, we know that is not healthy after an extended period of time.  The purpose of this book is to discuss how to cope when loved ones fall away.  At the end of each chapter is a “Faith in Action” activity.  Sometimes it helps just to have something tangible to do.  To get the reader started, and to build a foundation for this study, there is even a suggested activity here at the end of this introduction.  Also at the end of each chapter are some thoughts shared by individuals who have had a loved one fall away from the Lord.     
    “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24).

*Faith in Action–  Go through the first several chapters of the book of Jeremiah.  Underline in black (representing sin) phrases like “they have gone far from Me,” “backsliding,” “forsaken the Lord,” “transgressed against Me,” “rejected,” and “My people have forgotten Me.”  Then underline in red (representing God’s loyal love) every time God says, “return,” “return to Me,” or “amend your ways.”