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We appreciate you and thanks for engaging with family life. So I read a quote in a book that we're going to talk about today, and I thought this so resonates with the Christian experience. Do you know what quote I'm going to read?
No. You read the book, too. I did, but I want to hear it.
And this just jumped off the page. Lena, the author, wrote this. My inability to see God in my pain is rooted in the fact that I'm not really looking for God. I'm looking for a God to show up in the way I want him to show up and to give me what I want him to give me. That's good.
I mean, I'm like, that is so true. We don't talk about it, but that, I think, is at the heart of our struggle when we're in pain with God. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the Family Life app.
This is Family Life Today. Yeah, so who we got in here today? We have with us Lena Abu-Jamra.
And Lena, welcome to Family Life Today. Well done on saying my name. She gave you a thumbs up for the name. You did. Notice I threw it to you to introduce her. I did notice. And your book is called Fractured Faith, which is a great title.
And the subtitle is Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction. Yeah, I'm a doctor, so Fractured Faith was fitting on a number of reasons, but it really concisely says what this book is about. Yeah, what kind of doctor? Pediatric ER. I boarded in both specialties, and I've been practicing it for a while. And you do a lot of different things. Yeah, you know, it's morphed over the years.
Tell us about all of your... I finished pediatric ER training back 20 some years ago. And I felt God's call to ministry while I was doing my fellowship, actually. Really?
Yeah, which is interesting. I was actually coming through what I think was my first big faith crisis. I was engaged in my residency and broke off the engagement two weeks before the wedding, which comes up in Fractured Faith. Whoa, whoa, whoa. You got to explain that a little bit. I know, right?
Talk about everything, but man, you just laid a bomb out there two weeks before your wedding. I read it in your book, but I'm like, okay, that was... No, it's true. It's funny. You can say it quickly and gloss over it, but it really is a very pastoral thing to pick up on.
But it's true. It was very shaping. It was shocking in some ways. And the hardest part of that whole journey was not so much that I ended the engagement. I mean, I'm sort of like, I can make decisions. And I think for a while when you're engaged, I mean, just to spend a couple of minutes on this, I think as a Christian, when you're engaged, you feel a certain commitment. So it was hard to break off the engagement. So God used a lot of different things that happened in that season, even some things that went on with the person I was engaged with.
He went through a really dark season. So it ended up being a mutual decision. It was the right decision. But behind it was this friendship I had with a Christian young man who honestly deep in my soul, I thought he was the one. And I felt God had spoken about this person forever. And we spoke all the time.
We're really good friends. We were living in the same city at the time. Of course, I'm still single, so not to, you know, spoiler alert, but basically he ended up marrying someone else. And that gutted me. Honestly, I couldn't even tell that story. For maybe 10 years, I couldn't talk about it. It was like, I went through it. People around me all knew, like people who were close to me understood, but I don't know. Because it was so painful. It was so painful. And because we never dated, it was like a person that was your best friend. And so what were you going to say? The whole thing was a mess. And I was the one who had gotten engaged with someone else.
So there's so much in there. But the relational thing with God was that because in my soul, I felt like God had this person for me. Even allowing me to break off another engagement two weeks before the wedding and really mutually reach that place, which was already like a big decision. It just felt like God was confirming what I thought he had for me. And so I went to fellowship, really heartbroken.
And by then I knew that there wasn't a quick answer to the solution. But I still held on hope that God was going to bring that person back. Did you feel like it was God's will?
Yeah, I had a verse. It was like if you grew up in a Christian home where you read your Bible and circled verses, like I was a committed believer. I had lived right to the best of my ability. I mean, you know, you always have a Rolex of all the sins in your mind. And you're like, of course, you know, God's punished me for this. But by and large, I had been pure as pure can be.
You know, the things that, you know, I wasn't, I hadn't willfully sinned in those big, you know, dark ways that you think about. And I really thought that God was testing me and that even when I went to fellowship, this guy wasn't engaged or married or dating anybody at that time. And I thought it's going to be a matter of time because before God brings him.
And the longer it went, then I heard he started dating this girl who had dated before. And, you know, with every passing month, it was evident that this wasn't going to happen. And so that first year of fellowship where I was training to be a pediatric ER doctor was really, really hard. And it was a lot of wrestling with God to try and understand why he would set me up for disappointment that way. Because it felt this was between God and me. Like, I just felt like, yes, I was mad about the guy, but I felt like, God, you're the one who had told me.
Like, you've had all these years to make this happen and you didn't. And so I was still good enough Christian to read my Bible every day. But, you know, sometimes you do that more because there is enough fear of God in you, but you're afraid that God will punish you if you don't.
So you're still sort of like trying to be a good person, even though you have all of this angst in your soul. And I remember there was this time in those six months when it was all kind of displaying itself and where it was becoming evident that this was not going to happen. And at that point I was reading in a matter of prophets. And I think this was a turning point for me. I hit the book of Hosea and Hosea is a great, great book.
Of course, Redeeming Love, the movie, came out. A lot of people may be familiar with the story from that now, but it's the story of unrequited love, but a committed God. And I remember feeling like I was in a deep, deep wilderness and darkness.
And it's interesting because since then I've visited that place again. But for whatever reason, maybe I thought it, I don't know that I could have processed this, but I remember kind of thinking, why God? And that was the first time I saw Hosea chapter 2, verse 14, that says that, Behold, God allures Israel into the wilderness and there he will turn a valley of trouble into a place of hope. And the fact that God lovingly leads the one he loves to the wilderness just was more than my mind could handle. Even now, like I say, and I'm struck with the emotion of it. And I remember just starting to see God's love in that space. And, you know, the truth is that as Christians, we like the scenario, we like the narrative that says, and then eventually the guy showed up and it never happened. He married someone else.
He has a happy family. They're my Facebook friends. We've moved on. You know, I'm sure it's maybe been awkward conversations when they've read my subsequent books. But the truth is like, it wasn't part of God's plan for my life. And to believe and understand that what I'm living is not plan B.
It's not like God's like, oh, darn, now I got to figure out what to do with Lena's life. But part of the journey has been to, I think for a while, and I think the setup to my big crisis that led me to write Fractured Faith is that I think you sort of feel that you've paid your dues, first of all. So you've done your big disappointment with God. So now you're grown to other things. You're mature now. You don't need to go through it again.
And at least not to that level, like you see crisis, but not like this. But also, I think you sort of start to feel like you should know better, I think, at that point. And I think for me, when I went through this next season of darkness, it just felt like you go back to this contractual relationship with God where you feel like, God, I've done my part in this Christian life.
Why aren't you doing yours? And I think we apply it in every way, not just in our love life, but in our daily Christian life. Oh, we definitely do. And it's really back to your quote. It's like, I think I resonated with your quote so strongly because I've done it.
It's like, I want the God to give me what I want. And I expect Him sort of because I've earned it. You know, it's sort of like you paid the dues.
He sort of owed me. I've been good. Surely, I can't just keep being painful.
There's going to be a turn. And sometimes … But also, Lena, there comes a point where I think a lot of listeners will resonate like, did I hear God wrong? You start to second-guess yourself.
Yes. And so you're wondering like, am I not doing things right? You're continually second-guessing and wondering, where is my relationship with God? Well, if you follow social media at all, like in the last couple of years, a lot of conversations on social media will do things like, they'll take Jeremiah 29 and 11, the verses that talk about God giving you hope and an expected end. You've got this half of the Christian world that says, you can't apply it to yourself because this is about Israel. It's out of context. You're kind of going, oh, I guess maybe that's when I think it's going to happen in my life. Then on the other side, you have others that are like, no, you can embrace it for yourself.
And I do believe that scripture is meant to be personal. Do we overinterpret it? Sure. Do we try to make it glossy and rosy and all about me?
Of course. And I think God constantly reminds us there's a bigger story. And by the way, the bigger story is better than we think.
Even if it means I'm still single, the end, our big aha isn't you get married and you live happily ever after. It's not the bow. That's not it. You know, I always tell people like when Lazarus woke up from the dead, like the story isn't that Lazarus woke up from the dead. The story is that Jesus, period.
You know, the story isn't that Peter walked on water. See, we think that's the story. The story is Jesus. And I think this is the quote that you just read at the beginning is that it's saying like we make it about me coming out of the tube, me walking on water, me marrying happily ever after my own little, you know, hallmark movie. Our story. And it's, it's, it's his story.
Jesus is the secondary character and it's like, nope. And I think we say it, we say that he is the reason he's enough, he's all, but we don't really believe it. And like, this is just a jarring aha moment to me when I sort of wake up and realize, wow. Like I say a lot of things that I don't really live and believe. And every crisis that God has allowed me to enter and not just allowed, but led me into, I think has been an invitation into decluttering, killing the idols, and then a renewing of this passionate relationship that he wants with us that I think exceeds every relationship here on this earth.
Even as I've had a chance to meet you, you're so happily married and it's clear you have a deep, you know, relationship with each other. And who doesn't want that humanly? But, but I think we can have more with Jesus. But Dave is not my hero. That's it. What?
What are you talking about? I am your hero. You're my hero, but Jesus is my first hero. I'm very, very flawed. Because when I made Dave my hero, I was sorely disappointed.
And I think everyone is when they put anything in place of Jesus as an idol. Well, and so this is why so many marriages are not succeeding, because I think you sort of think if I meet the one, then everything will be fine. Well, but you know, going back to that, so I was in that season in Jacksonville and I started teaching. So that was the turning point, Hosea. And I started seeing, you know, God soften my heart to his goodness. And I eventually, again, by God's grace, how did, this is how you know, like the story is not yours. Because how would I end up then that season teaching a Sunday school class? And that was the pivotal point I felt God calling me to ministry. And I did not know what that would look like. I was, I didn't feel that God wanted me to bail on medicine. So I somehow knew I would be bivocational. He was like intuitive in me.
I just thought I'd do both. I'd be like Luke, the guy in the Bible. You know, he's a doctor. Physician. You know, there were others who did two things.
Paul, the apostle. And I just figured I'd do both. Tell us about that call. What happened?
How did you know? Well, I'll tell you a couple of things. Because I think, I think that's a really good question. A lot of people are trying to find out what they're supposed to do in life and they assume, oh, you've been called to ministry. Therefore you have a job and we don't. Like, you know, you have a job in the kingdom and you don't. I think that's so false. Because first of all, I was a doctor.
There was no reason to think I would get a quote unquote call. And all it for me was this. I, first of all, I fell in love with teaching the Bible more than anything else I'd ever done in church. And what that looked like to me was taking scripture and creating messages that brought it to life. And applied in a very understandable way. Just brought it to life.
I don't know how else. I enjoyed the process of creating a sermon, really. And I was doing it in the context of women's Sunday school. And at the time I was dabbling with writing some newsletters and I knew I had a gift there. So you start seeing your gifts.
So you start doing something and you see giftedness. And to me, I knew that maybe there was something in writing. Because I would catch all people in the church reading the newsletter that I had written for my woman in my 30 people Sunday school class.
And so I never thought about it. I didn't think I was going to write books at the time. And so, but I loved that moment when I would get up and teach the Bible. And so I wanted to do it. So now I was praying like, God, what do you want? So already I was committed to God.
I wanted to live for him. And now I'm like, I love doing this. What do you want me to do?
Well, you know, it's almost like it's inevitable. Like you're going to teach. This is my gift now as a mature Christian who understands what teaching is.
What are the gifts? God's given you the gift of teaching. Like it was so evident to me. Like when you're asking God so much, like, use me, use me, use me, use me, use me, here I am, Lord, send me.
It's kind of show you. And so the last 20 some years of my ministry life have been wrestling with what that calling looks like. From writing books to doing podcasts to even now doing the global work in the Middle East. What's your ministry called? It's called Living with Power.
And you can find it livingwithpower.org. And then for a while it was as a woman's ministry director at Omega Church, which is sort of the backdrop of Fractured Faith. But it's all of those things which have been just really my pursuit of teaching God's word to people wherever I can in a way that brings us closer to him and creating a space for revival. Yeah.
Talk about that backdrop. You just just sort of dropped it out there of Fractured Faith because I love the thought of this deconstruction reconstruction. That we got to get there eventually too, but I'm sure it's all in the story. Because in an age of deconstruction, many people are leaving the faith when they've experienced pain or fracture. Yeah, that word deconstruction, of course, is taken on its own. No one knew what that meant years ago.
And now I think people still probably don't know for sure what that means. But deconstruction is a season where we question the goodness of God, honestly, is how I would summarize it. Basically, it's a season where the things that have happened in your life related to, I think, Christianity and the church. I think a lot of deconstruction is, first of all, you don't deconstruct if you're not a Christian.
That's a premise. So you are in some way related to church and Christianity and you deconstruct and you can deconstruct, by the way, the word itself was a literary word. So it was not applied to church. But in the last, let's say, five years, it's become a church Christian word. And it really has been applied to the situation where you used to believe certain things about God and Christianity and you don't anymore. And so some legitimate deconstruction is rooted in things that you shouldn't have believed. And that's, I think, what I bring up a lot in my book and others where I think, honestly, things have taken on a cultural tone that has landed people away from the faith. And then you can debate were they ever Christians or not when a person walks away to that degree from the faith. And so whether you use the word deconstruction or not, there's a lot of biblical content that talks about people who, you know, even Jesus talking about the seed.
There's a seed that gets thrown at four different grounds. But all this to say, I left my fellowship convinced of a couple of things that God wanted me to still practice medicine and that God wanted me to be in full-time ministry. How they would work out, I didn't know. And I was a little disappointed that he had moved me from Jacksonville, Florida, because I saw so many things coming together, including, and I always felt like my ministry world would be somehow connected to the local church. And I had a very, very, I guess you could say successful ministry in a local church. Small, I mean, it wasn't yet, it was, this was back in 2000. It was pre, just to date people, pre cell phone, pre social media, you know, blogs hadn't even started. I think Michael Hyatt was early 2000s. There's really a lot of the things that brought people to light, like the person in Texas writing a blog became known to everyone because of social media, right?
We didn't have that before. And so we're all navigating this world. Our main role model in ministry was really Beth Moore.
I mean, with a few other exceptions. And so people always say, oh, you think you're going to be the next Beth Moore? No, I don't know that anyone ever necessarily thought that. On the other hand, maybe we did because she was the main person who was doing ministry in a way that was tangible. And so she was a gift in some ways to people like myself who were just trying to figure out, well, how do I teach the Bible then? And to me, it felt like it had to be in the local church. So when God quickly moved me away from Jacksonville into Chicago, where I still live now, it's been 22 years up in Chicago.
I felt a bit like I was still fresh enough out of that encounter of disappointment and wrestling that I still question. I'm a person who likes security and the plan. I'm a yard doctor. We live by protocols and CPR. Imagine showing up to CPR and being like, I don't know what's going to happen.
Just keep thumping. You have to have a plan. And it's all about algorithms. And I just want God to give me the algorithm.
And then I don't care how long it takes. I know where we're going, but it doesn't work this way in a Christian life. Wouldn't it be nice if it did? But not really. But it would be. I don't know why we do that. We wouldn't have to trust.
We'd be bored. And so in essence, I moved up sort of still with an ounce of faith, but still a lot of questions. And it was a season in my life that I wrote a lot of poetry because it comes out of angst. But basically, I started doing what I could where I could. And I always talk to people about living out their calling. I say, you know, you're not going to wake up with a big ministry.
Just do what you can where you can. So to me, it did look like writing in my private room because I wanted to communicate God's word. And so around that time, the cultural things that were happening is that people had blogs. I started a blog and then I started looking for a local church. It took me a couple of years, which again, we are now living in an instant gratification.
Come up now with this answer. And two years even then felt like a long time. Now most people would never show up anymore at the church.
And so keep at it. It took me two years to find that church. But when I finally found the church, it felt like it was the best church I'd ever been at. And it was maybe I was there maybe a year and a half to two years. And there were a lot of different things that happened in that season of where I just like showed up to the woman's ministry director and said, look, I'll clean toilets if you need me to.
Like, I don't care what I do. I just need to be serving the Lord. And I told her all the good, bad, and ugly of my life. And next thing I knew, I was teaching in some capacity. And next thing I knew, I was the woman's ministry director in what is now looked at as a megachurch in a movement when megachurches were on the rise.
And that pastor was a mega famous pastor. Which is pretty remarkable because you're still an ER doctor and pediatrician. Well, it's interesting.
I think it was remarkable because I was a no-one. Think about it. Like in a sense, like what felt so, all along what has felt so, when I've looked at the ministry that God has given me, and I've spent a lot of time questioning, because when you have another job, it's easy to fall back on it and say, well, maybe I misheard God. Because you go back to, how do you know?
And no, well, and I would constantly, and I still am tempted to be like, well, maybe I'm just supposed to be a doctor. Because I haven't had the quote unquote level of success that these other people have had. Which, I mean, success and significance in ministry is a whole other section that we can talk about in this.
But you are. You're given the sense sometimes, if you look at horizontal ministry, that you're not successful if you're not growing. Or, you know, even that pastor in that church used to say, healthy things grow. And so you felt bad if you weren't growing.
Which, healthy things grow, but healthy things hibernate and healthy things get pruned and purged and all this stuff. And so, you know, stepping into that, I didn't feel, like, it always felt like God was confirming the ministry call by opening doors that I couldn't open my own. And so I would just walk through them. A lot of times with questions and with fears and with, you know, even like, really, God, this is it? Like, why aren't you doing more? You know, sort of, visionaries have this problem of, because we see the end results, it's hard to slow down and allow God to shape what needs to be shaped here, personally, in my own self before I'm able to go there. And also, I don't think you see yet stuff like, practically, in 2002, how could I ever imagine a world that we had a cell phone where you could do ministry in? Okay, in 2010, how could we ever have imagined a world where there were Syrian refugees in my home country of Lebanon that God would want me to serve someday?
Like, you couldn't even write the book because you didn't know what was going to happen. It's things that only God knows. And so how can you then judge God because you haven't lived those things yet, right? Age gives you that gift of seeing, oh, wow, yeah, maybe sit inside, like, so these lamentations, like, stop talking. There's a point where we Christians need to just stop talking before God because what we say reveals our ignorance sometimes. And I think for me, I've said a lot of ignorant things that I think God, like, it's like toddlers when we, I mean, I don't mean it like, honestly, if someone's listening and you're wrestling with their faith, I don't think God says, oh, you're like a little toddler.
Like, God is so much more compassionate with us. But now I look and think, my reactions to the waiting, my reactions to the disappointment, in hindsight, feel like what I watch with my eight-year-old nephew, how he interacts with his mom. Especially when you like to know the plan and you're a planner and you're strategizing the future. I mean, I even like to know, okay, here's where we could go. And I'm kind of bringing Jesus in along with me. She does that on every walk we go on.
How far we go on, where we go on, I'm like, let's just go for a walk. You know, we could do it like this, and then we kind of bring Jesus in. Wouldn't that be a great idea, Jesus?
We could expand your kingdom. Exactly. Well, here's my question as we wrap this one, because it sounds like you had another fracture of faith that we're going to have to talk about tomorrow. But for the person listening that's in your first fracture, which it could be a relationship like you had.
It could be some other expectation. I thought God would, but he hasn't. What would you say?
Just one thought for that person right where they are right now. Just wait. I hate that advice in a way, but honestly, just wait. Don't react. Don't run.
You know, the fight-or-flight response is so intuitive to all of us. We want to quit the faith. We want to, you know, just wait.
Just sit still. Like, that's what God told the people of Israel so often. Just wait, sit still, and see the victory that God's preparing.
And I really believe it's coming. The fact that you're even listening is part of God's working in your life right now. And I think, too, one of the things I love about your story is how you didn't pull away from God.
You kept in His Word. And many times what we can do is we can reject God or be mad at Him, and we will not get in the Word. Where it is, like, when I'm in the Word, and I have to be, because it reminds me of His faithfulness, of His goodness. But it's also that place where God is speaking to me, and I'm reminded He is loving. He is with me. He is patient.
He is holy. It is a little bit, I think, like walking in a gym when you don't want to. Yeah. Because when you said that, I'm like, there's someone listening right now that's like, I don't want to open His Word. I'm mad. I'm hurt.
I'm angry. Open the Word, even though you don't want to, and say, God, I need to find you. I need to see you. Will you speak?
And I think He'll meet you there. Hi, I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to David Ann Wilson with Lina Abu-Jamra on Family Life Today. You know, for many of us, somewhere along the way, the Christianity we knew began to crumble, and Lina has communicated to us today and encouraged us that we could find our way back to God, and in the process, we might just discover that the real God has been waiting for us all along. Lina Abu-Jamra has written a book called Fractured Faith, Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction. If you or our loved one are wrestling with deconstruction and questioning your faith in several ways or just minor ways, you can head over to FamilyLifeToday.com and pick up a copy of Lina's book.
I know it'll be helpful as you wrestle. And you know, we're down to the last three days of the month of May. This has been a super special month for us here at Family Life because of the matching program that a partner has generously donated to us here at Family Life. And that means, basically, when you give a gift to Family Life, every gift that you give is going to be matched dollar for dollar. So if you make, for example, a $50 donation, the donation's actually going to turn into $100, and that's only going to happen for the next three days here in the month of May. So would your home be able to give hope to somebody who feels hopeless today? We're looking for 350 new partners this month to join Family Life as a donor.
And perhaps God is calling you to be one of those partners. If that's the case, go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800, F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word Today. Now, tomorrow, Lina Abu-Jamra is joined again with Dave and Ann Wilson in the studio to talk about the wrestling with deconstruction.
And at a point when she felt like God didn't deliver for her, he actually failed her and how she spiraled in that process, but how she also found hope. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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