Tag Archives: Belief

“Don’t Be Afraid; Just Believe”

“…their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them….”
Joshua 5:1 (NRSV)

Earlier this year our local group of Jesus’ followers ran concurrent series of messages on Sunday mornings. In one room there was a series on fear and in the other room my friend Matthew and I did a series on shame. It was a fascinating juxtaposition of topics because both fear and shame have similar paralyzing effects in people. The series in both rooms have proven to “have legs” as the topics continue to resonate with both Wendy and me in our conversations and in our lives.

I assume that’s why the phrase above leapt off the page at me this morning. The word pictures are vivid reminders of fear’s debilitating nature. A heart has melted. There is no heart left to believe, to hope, to yearn, to persevere, to strive, to survive, to pump the blood and muster up courage. The spirit is gone and there is no breath of life or inspiration. Lifeless. Dead.

Once again, I am reminded how often the phrase “Do not be afraid” and “Do not fear” are found in God’s Message. Over, and over, and over again we are encouraged, admonished, and commanded to choose not to be afraid. And, the antidote God routinely gives to counteract fear is belief. Have a little faith; just a smidgen will do. Place your trust in God, even when you don’t see Him.

Don’t be afraid; just believe.
-Jesus

Not a bad reminder for this Good Friday.

 

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To Believe, or Not to Believe

Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
John 20:29 (NRSV)

It is the most startling claim of all of the startling claims that were made about Jesus. The One who cured lepers, cast out demons, made the lame walk and the blind to see. The One who raised a little girl from her deathbed and called Lazarus out of his tomb. This Jesus, whose beaten, tortured, and crucified body had lain dead and lifeless in the grave since Friday afternoon, is resurrected on Sunday morning and appears numerous times to different followers, including a sudden appearance behind locked doors to show his wounds as proof to a doubting Thomas.

There are many over the centuries who appreciate Jesus’ teachings and example, but fall short of believing the miraculous claims about Him. Yet it was the surety of the resurrected Jesus that led His followers to burst out from their hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaim the most audacious claim of all. Each one of Jesus’ inner circle who saw Jesus present Himself to a doubting Thomas behind those locked doors would later prove willing to travel to the ends of the known world, to suffer terribly at the hands of unbelievers, and to die horrific deaths in proclaiming that which they had heard with their own ears, seen with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands.

It is one thing to nod acknowledgement and appreciation toward Jesus’ Pinterest worthy sayings. It is another thing to truly believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be and who His closest followers proclaimed Him to be though it cost them their own lives. If you believe the audacious claim, then it requires something of you. It requires everything of you.

For the record, I believe.

Which Story Will I Choose to Believe?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)

I realized somewhere along my life journey that I had a tape recorder playing in my head. The recording was a montage of voices of the past and negative blurts that had clung to my soul as though someone had stuck them there with velcro. The recording played on a loop in my head like Muzac in a department store. I was largely unaware of it most of the time, but the recording played over and over and over again reinforcing certain negative messages:

  • I’m not a good enough person
  • I’m not a good enough husband
  • I’m not a good enough dad
  • If people really knew me they’d reject me
  • I’m such an idiot
  • I don’t have a clue what I’m doing
  • I’m never going to be [fill in the blank]
  • I’m such a hopeless wretch, God won’t really forgive me

There came a point in my journey when I became aware of these shame-full messages whispering in the background of my consciousness. I began to realize just how insidious and powerful they were in framing my self image, my perspective, and even my behaviors. They contributed to nagging attitudes of insecurity and defeat.

I began to listen more carefully. I began to write these negative blurts down as I heard them and then identified them. Where possible, I identified the source of that negative blurt from my past. If possible, I tried to identify how and when it was that I came to believe that negative message about myself. I brought them out into the light of day and examined them thoroughly, memorizing what they looked life, sounded like, and felt like.

I began consciously, day-by-day, to create a new recording. This recording was based on affirming messages sourced on what God says about me:

  • I am loved
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made
  • I am forgiven, my sins remembered no more
  • I am purified from all unrighteousness
  • I am blessed
  • I am a child of God
  • I am an heir of God
  • I am the light of the world
  • I am the salt of the earth
  • I am more than a conqueror
  • I am enriched in every way

From that point on, whenever I recognized one of my old negative blurts whispering to me, I turned up the volume on my new recording. It wasn’t a quick process. It took time and tenacious effort. Slowly, however, things began to shift. My mind began to transform and let go of the old messages as it embraced the new.

Today, I’m thinking about the story that I have for so long told about myself deep in the recesses of my soul. I’m thinking about how much that story contrasts with the story that God tells about me. So often I’m the prodigal child approaching God, hat-in-hand, repeating the self-written story of my wretched unworthiness. God is the prodigal’s father believing and telling a very different story of just how loved, honored, and valued I am.

The question is: Which story will I choose to believe?

Living in the Mystery

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great….”
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Both Taylor and Suzanna were home with us over the weekend so we had family movie night on Sunday evening and watched Interstellar. It was a fascinating yarn and made for some really interesting thoughts and conversation afterwards about time, space, relativity, dimensions, and humanity. On 60 Minutes, just before we watched the movie, Lesley Stahl did a piece on the supper collider scientists are using to try to scientifically explain things such as how spontaneous existence can happen.

I find it interesting that there are some things that are an elusive mystery, even to science which believes everything can be known, quantified, and explained apart from God. A few lines I pulled from the script of the 60 Minutes piece:

  • American physicist Greg Rakness showed us one of the four detectors where subatomic particles called protons ram into each other at nearly the speed of light to simulate conditions that are believed to have existed when the universe began. [emphasis added]
  • One of their biggest goals is shining a light on dark matter and dark energy which are among the great remaining mysteries of modern science and reminders of how little we know about the universe. [emphasis added]
  • We just didn’t find [black holes]. They still could be here. [emphasis added]

I find it strangely comforting that, when it comes to answering the great questions of life, people of science have mysteries that can’t be easily explained or quantified the same as people of faith.

Today, in the stillness of the autumn morning, I am asking big questions about faith, science, God, creation, time, and space. My mind ruminates and wanders through what both science purports and God’s message purports, and both roads lead to mysterious places. Some mornings I end my quiet time with more questions than answers. The further I get in life’s road, the more I am learning to enjoy the mystery.

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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.