Tag Archives: Belief

The Path to Crazy

For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
Galatians 3:3 (MSG)

While in college, I had two other guys with whom I began to share my life journey. We met on Saturday mornings in the Great Room of Volkman Hall right after PeeWee’s Playhouse. It was the first time in my life that I’d met regularly and intentionally with other guys just to talk about our respective life journeys. We waded into, what was for us at the time, the deep weeds of life. We shared openly about our hurts and confessed our sins to each other. For me, it was monumental.

When college was over, the three of us each took our own paths in divergent directions. One of the guys I have continued to keep up with through periodic phone calls and Facebook. As I read the chapter this morning, I struck me that the other friend went the of the “crazy” Galatians.

The third member of our trio contacted me a few years after college. He’d found his way to a group who taught him that only by following their rigid religious rules could anyone truly call themselves a follower of Jesus. He accused me of not measuring up, of not truly being a follower. It sounded insane; The kind of insanity Paul was confronting among the Galatians. Having once followed by simply believing, my friend was now convinced that only by following a strict set of doctrinal beliefs and behavioral rules could he be “holy” and acceptable to God.

Today, I’m offering sincere prayers for the other two members of my college trio. I have such good memories of Saturday mornings with my Judson College homies wrapped in blankets, listening for Pee Wee’s secret word, and moose slippers. It was an important stretch of life’s journey for me and I will forever be grateful for that time and these two companions. I trust that whatever crazy Galatians-like path my one friend followed, God has been faithful in helping him find his way back to the simplicity of Jesus’ message: faith, grace, love, and forgiveness.

Choosing to Believe

source: pictoquotes via Flickr
source: pictoquotes via Flickr

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.
Job 42:3 (NIV)

Earlier in our walk through the book of Job I shared some of Wendy’s and my experience with infertility. Many of Job’s questions echoed our own questions during the darkest days of our striving to have a child together. The questions still arise from within us at times, but it happens less frequently the further we get in our journey.

The truth of the matter is that I still don’t understand. I have made peace with the fact that we will never understand on this side of eternity. Some things we will simply never know or comprehend. I can choose to let it eat away at my insides until my existence becomes enveloped in bitterness, madness, or both. That’s not a great way to live.

Wendy was the last of her close group of friends to get married. She was 33 when we wed nine years ago. She shared with me some of her struggles with singleness, and she finally found a place to rest in it. “If God is good,” she told me, “and I believe He is, if God has my best interests in mind, and I believe He does, then I have to trust that there is purpose and a plan for what I’m going through even if I don’t understand it.”

That same logic helped us through our struggles with infertility. I still find myself repeating it from time to time when the scabs on the soul wound begin to itch. As I read today’s epilogue from the story of Job, it seems to me that Job came to the same conclusion, though he used different words. Sometimes you have to choose to believe. That’s called faith. Not only is faith required to believe that God exists, but also to believe that God has a purpose and a plan for me despite my present circumstances.

Unconditional Love for Irreconcilable Suffering

job-and-eliphaz2“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
Job 4:7-8 (NIV)

When I was young, I began to notice that men and women have very different sub-textual conversations. I became fascinated with a phenomenon I observed in my female friends. I would be in a social setting with a female when another female enters the room. My friend would suddenly turn and whisper some critical remark about the stranger. A few probing questions led me to the realization that within a nano-second my female companion had sized up the female who just entered the room and had filled out a complete mental dossier on her competition. She knew what the other female was wearing, her socio-economic status, what kind of person she was, and exactly where she was to be filed in the categorized file cabinet of her brain. The hi-speed, interpersonal judge, jury, and executioner from across the crowded room.

Along the journey I have continued to observe this non-verbal social world of women. I have, after all, spent much of my life in an estrogen wonderland surrounded by females. I find it fascinating. (Personal Note: I realize that I’m making a broad generalization here. I’m not picking on women. Men have similar unspoken judgments, but in my experience it just looks and behaves differently. That’s another blog post for another day.)

As Wendy and I were in the depths of our journey through infertility, I became aware of just how deep and strong women’s thoughts and core beliefs around pregnancy and motherhood can run. In this unspoken, invisible world of non-verbal female communication there exists a sub-culture in which fertility is spiritual currency. If you are a woman who gets pregnant at the drop of a hat and cranks out multiple children in succession, then you are a female all-star, blessed and living right. If you are a woman struggling to conceive then there are some serious question marks surrounding you and this curse you are experiencing. There must be some reason God is withholding this fundamental female blessing from you.

In yesterday’s chapter we left Job and his three friends on the ash heap. For seven days the four of them sat in silence when Job finally opened his mouth to speak. What poured out what was a highly emotional rant of despair that you might have expected from a man who had lost his children, his workforce, his wealth, and his livelihood before breaking out in painful sores all over his body.

Today, the first of his three friends opens his mouth to speak. His name is Eliphaz, and he comes from the ultra-religious wing of society for whom life is very simple. Everything in life fits neatly into their black and white box and it parallels the thinking I’ve observed around fertility in certain subsets of the female population. If you are visibly prospering you must be living upright and piously because God is blessing you. If you are visibly suffering then you must have done something to deserve God’s punishment. Plain and simple.

Too simple. Eliphaz asks, “Who, being innocent ever perished?” Stop right there, Eli. Let me give you a short list off the top of my head:

  • Still born and miscarried children
  • The millions who were marched into the Nazi gas chambers
  • Millions of civilian war victims throughout history
  • The journalists who were beheaded on video by ISIS to make a point
  • The Christian couple I read about in Pakistan who just last week were beaten to death by the Muslims in their village.
  • My friend who was hit by a drunk driver
  • My friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short by incurable diseases

Job has suffered incredible tragedy and the first thing he hears from his friend is a backhanded accusation that he must have done something to bring down God’s wrath upon himself. Eli’s words reveal his heart. He is less concerned with showing love, empathy, and compassion to his friend, and more concerned with trying to reconcile what he’s witnessed with the rose-colored glasses through which he sees a simple black and white world.

Today, I am thinking about those who suffer around me in ways I can’t comprehend. I am determined that I do not want to be a friend like Eliphaz. Trying to reconcile irreconcilable suffering within my personal world-view is less important than simply loving a suffering friend without reservation or judgment.

The Ultimate Question

The church I attended every week as a child.
The church I attended every week as a child.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Luke 9:18-20a (NIV)

Growing up, my family attended church regularly. I sang in the children’s choir, put on my robe each week, and walked in processional up the center aisle and into the choir loft. In the summer I went to Vacation Bible School. In the fall I and my went to the church’s Christmas bazaar (usually because my mother was a volunteer). Every Easter week our family attended the Maunday Thursday communion service. Every Christmas week our family attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Every year or two I went to the Father/Son banquet with my dad. At the age of twelve I dutifully attended the confirmation class required by our denomination, and at the end of that year I put on my white robe and was accepted as a member of the church. I got a certificate for my pains and a box of envelopes with my name on it for my weekly offerings.

Michael Corleone
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of these activities and events made me and my family good, religious people. We observed all of the right things. They did not, however, make us believers in Jesus. Like Michael Corleone standing at the baptismal fount dutifully renouncing Satan while his orders to assassinate all of his enemies was carried out, the rituals and religious trappings had no real relationship with what was going on inside my heart and soul. All of the religious activity really didn’t affect my motives, thoughts, words, or actions on a daily basis.

In today’s chapter, Jesus confronts his followers with two questions:

“Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Simple. There are many answers to this question. We can spend all day going through the options. Some say this, and some say that. Good teacher, Son of God, messiah, prophet, wise man, looney tunes, charlatan, or huckster.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Now that’s a direct question. That’s a very personal question. It’s an important question. In fact, it’s the ultimate question. The answer to that question makes all the difference.  C.S. Lewis famously wrote that there are three logical answers to Jesus’ question:

  1. Liar. Jesus knew He was not God, but told everyone He was. If Jesus lied then He was morally corrupt and a deceiver. In which case, there is no point in believing in Him or following Him.
  2. Lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, but was not. In which case, despite all of the nice sayings and good deeds, Jesus was actually crazy and should have been locked up in the psych ward with all of the other lunatics claiming to be God. Again, there is no point in giving Him much thought.
  3. Lord. Jesus was, in fact, who He claimed to be, in which case we much choose to accept Him or reject Him.

When I was 14, in a moment that had nothing to do with my family, church, denomination, or confirmation I found my spirit confronted with the ultimate question:

“But what about you?” came the question deep from in my soul“Who do you say I am?”

“I believe you are, indeed, who you say you are,” my spirit replied to His spirit. “Come into my heart, and be Lord of my life.”

And, that made all the difference.

“Yes, You Can”

Way to go, Taylor! Way to go!

Dad & Madison @ Graduation 05 2010

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…. Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

When our daughters were growing up, I made the choice that my default parental answer would always be “yes.” I believed that one of the most important lessons I could instill in my children is an understanding of how capable they were.

  • “Yes” you can play in the sprinkler, because life is about joyful everyday experiences
  • “Yes” you can stay up and read in bed, because reading will expand your world
  • “Yes” you can go on a missions trip to the other side of the world, because God doesn’t put an age limit on spiritual gifts or who He can/will use for His purposes, and neither should I.
  • “Yes” you can try out for [fill in the blank], because I believe you can do it, I want  you to believe in yourself, and even if you fail you will learn an invaluable life lesson that will benefit you the rest of your life.

Don’t get me wrong. The answer was “no” on occasion, but as a parent I wanted my “no” to have good reason that I could clearly articulate. I’ve seen too many parents whose default is always “no,” and the negative impact on their children:

  • “No” you can’t because I don’t trust you
  • “No” you can’t because you’re a kid
  • “No” you can’t because I never could
  • “No” you can’t because I don’t want to have to deal with it

I live in a world of fellow adults who have no idea of how capable they are or the difference they could make in the lives of others because the default answer they’ve known all their lives has been “no.” I wanted the default answer in my home to be “yes” so that my children would realize that they are even more capable than they themselves realized, and that I believed in them. More importantly, I believe that God believes in them, has gifted them uniquely, and can do immeasurably more through them than they could ask or imagine.

This past weekend we had the joy of spending some time with Taylor. She shared with us what’s been going on in her soul of late, which she put into her blog post on Sunday. She quoted from Rob Bell’s sermon which dovetails nicely with this morning’s post:

If you are a disciple, you have committed your entire life to being like your rabbi. If you see your rabbi walk on water, what do you immediately want to do? Walk on water. So this disciple gets out on the water and he starts to sink, so he yells, “Jesus save me!” And Jesus says, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; Jesus is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. Peter loses faith that he can do what the rabbi is doing. If the rabbi calls you to be his disciple, then he believes you can actually be like him. As we read the stories of Jesus’ life with his disciples, what do we find that frustrates him to no end? When his disciples lose faith in themselves. He doesn’t get frustrated with them because they are incapable, but because of how capable they are. 

So Jesus, at the end of his time, tells the disciples to go make more disciples. Then he leaves. He dies. He promises to send his Spirit to guide and direct them, but the future of the movement is in their hands. He doesn’t stick around to make sure they don’t screw it up. He’s gone. He actually trusts that they can do it. God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been told that I need to believe in Jesus, which is a good thing. But what I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me.

“Yes, you  can.”

 

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A Purposed Change of Course

Compass usage illustration
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. Revelation 17:17 (NIV)

 

Yesterday I was having coffee with my friend just as we have done every week or two for the past several years. He and I have a relationship that goes deep. We know the most intimate details of one another’s lives, and we have shared the journey with one another for a good stretch through some low valleys as well as a few mountain tops.

Over a hot cup of coffee I was sharing some things that are happening in life for Wendy and me. My friend recognized in my sharing the same thing that I have sensed in the past several months. There is a shift happening in life for Wendy and me at this point in our journey that is beyond our conscious thought or human ability to facilitate. Some of the paths we have intended to take were inexplicably closed to us, and in some cases their closure has been the source of confusion, grief, and intense sadness. Now, all of a sudden, other paths have opened up and, out of the confusion, we both have an incomprehensible peace in our hearts about this course adjustment. We can’t explain it, we didn’t see it coming, but we both recognize that it’s happening.

Wise King Solomon said, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Wendy and I have long recognized that there is a divine plan at work in our lives. We have plotted our course and headed out on paths we believed would lead us where we wanted to go and where were supposed to go, but our steps have ultimately been directed to different paths on a different course. We know that our stories and our paths are part of a larger story and purpose. We don’t always see it with our eyes, but when we experience the life shift as we have over the past several months, we both know it in our hearts.

I believe that there is a larger story being told and a greater purpose at work in this life for which our lives are but a bit part (Actually, I have come to love bit parts – but that’s a different blog post). As I read through John’s account of his vision I am struck by the parallel we’re experiencing in our lives. I read the chapters and follow along as John is led through some strange visions. I catch little pieces I recognize but I largely struggle to see clearly what they mean in the whole. Underneath it all, however, I have an incomprehensible peace in knowing that there is a story being told whose chapters were written outside of time, and there is a divine purpose unfolding in today’s headlines which lead towards a conclusion that has long been foreshadowed. For Wendy and me, our job is to walk the steps established, to press on in the course, and to play out our bit parts to the best of our gifts and abilities.

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Believing Such Nonsense

Me standing on an ancient altar, the Valley of Armageddon behind me.
Me standing on an ancient altar, the Valley of Armageddon behind me.

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
Revelation 16:16 (NIV)

I had a chance to visit Megiddo and look out over the Valley of Armageddon while in Israel several years back. My trip to Israel impressed on me a number of things. I had always known that Jerusalem and the surrounding area is the biggest political “hotspot” on Earth, but while visiting I experienced it for myself on a number of occasions at different sites. Having experienced the conflict and having felt the underlying hatred I looked out over the Valley of Armageddon and pondered John’s vision with a new perspective.

We often speak of Armageddon as if it’s a place of fantasy fiction like Middle Earth or Narnia. Armageddon is the place of comic book battles and apocalyptic Hollywood movies. Perhaps that’s what prophetic writing feels like to a lot of us. But, Armageddon is a real place. According to John’s vision there will be “kings from the East” who march in for a great battle.

As I looked out over the valley and tried to envision what John saw. I tried to picture what it would look like. The writer in me wondered about how the story would unfold. Perhaps a better writer could weave a thriller of a story around it, but I couldn’t see through the fog of the prophecy. That’s the way it is with prophetic writing. It points forward and gives snapshots of a future spot on the timeline that don’t quite make sense in the context of the spot on timeline I find myself.

Nevertheless, I look back now with hindsight and read the prophetic visions of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, they probably made as much sense to the faithful as Revelation 16 does to us today. Now we can see clearly what David and Isaiah envisioned, and I marvel at the fact that they were penned hundreds of years before the events they foretold. And so, I stood and looked out over the Valley of Armageddon. Though I can’t see clearly how and when it will unfold, I do believe that a great battle will happen there in the end as surely as David saw the soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothes.

Some, I’m sure, think me foolish to “believe such nonsense.” But, I do believe things which we do not see. My journey through God’s Message and capturing a glimpse of the larger story has led me to do so, even as it has led me to dismiss some of what the institutional, organized church has twisted it into. Does this make any difference in my day today? I think it at once makes little difference and all the difference. It does not change my task list nor the events of my day, but it changes my perspective on how this day and every day of my life fits into a larger, unfolding story.

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