Categotry Archives: faith

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Tebow and Manning: A Tale of Two Christians

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Categories: faith, food for thought

Considering that the Super Bowl is next weekend–and especially considering that the Denver BRONCOS are playing in it–it’s a good time to have a football-themed post. πŸ™‚

If you follow professional football at all, you recognize the names of the two people in the title of this post: Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. Β The connection between them is that they are the previous and current quarterbacks for the Denver Broncos, which is of particular interest to me since I live here and have a front row seat to notice how each quarterback has been perceived in these parts. Another connection between them, one less obvious, is that both are men of faith–though they both have very different ways of expressing that faith, and interestingly, have seen different outcomes in their lives.

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More than the Mind (or, A Tale of Two Atheists)

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Categories: faith, Meanderings (look it up)

Not long ago, I was browsing through my Google Reader, kind of sorting through and unsubscribing from blogs that had become inactive, and I came across a “good-bye” post from a fellow blogger. He had been struggling with his faith for some time, and I’d tracked with him for awhile because he had expressed such honesty and candor about his doubts and his feelings. This post was several months old (I was admittedly behind in my reading), but he’d written a good-bye post to close out this particular blog because he had finally decided there was no God, and he was now an atheist. Since the blog was about struggling with faith, and for him there was no more faith to struggle with, he’d moved on to write a new blog about atheism.

When I read his words, my heart sank in grief, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I only know this person from his writing–I don’t think we’d ever even commented on one another’s blogs–but I felt this profound sense of loss, and I grieved for my brother who had struggled so long and had come to such a sad conclusion. I say “sad,” because when I look at my own life and struggles, I cannot imagine the amount of sorrow I would feel if I ever came to the conclusion that there had been no divine purpose in it all, that all this time I’d been muddling through on my own, that there was really no One watching out for me. Never mind the implications of the afterlife–even the idea of living in the here-and-now with no belief in God (especially if belief was once there) is a completely devastating thought to me. This is why I grieved so for my brother who had lost his faith.
I am acquainted with another atheist for whom I don’t feel the same sense of grief and loss; in fact, I feel a bit of hope. In hearing him talk about his own struggles with faith, it’s actually apparent that he wants to believe. He’s not a militant atheist, and is friendly to Christians, even admires them; he says that the only thing that really keeps him from crossing the line into faith is that he is so analytical that he can’t get his mind around the idea of the supernatural. In short, his logical mind gets in the way.
From my perspective, the biggest difference between these two atheists is the direction the struggle for faith is taking them. For the latter, I think his path is ultimately toward Christ; he would totally be a Christ-follower if he could just overcome the mental block, and I have hope that one day this will happen for him. For the former, he’s coming from the opposite direction–he once had faith (or at least belief), but got disillusioned, and for one reason or another his doubts were never satisfied. So he walked away from Christ.
But despite this difference, there is also, I think, one main similarity between these two atheists–that the struggle with faith seems to be almost exclusively in the mind. It’s the stuff that we can’t fully explain about God, the parts of Christianity that defy logic, even the apparent contradictions, that throw us for a loop. In our Age of Reason, we we are sort of conditioned to dismiss what we cannot prove, or only to accept what we can reasonably explain. I can understand that, and those who have read this blog for awhile know I spend a lot of time thinking and reasoning and grappling about issues of faith from a logical standpoint.
But here’s where I’m going with all this: by definition God (assuming He exists) must be bigger than our minds. If we could figure Him out, He wouldn’t really be God. Any attempt to fully grasp the divine using only logic and reason will ultimately be foiled; either we’ll settle on the wrong notions and deceive ourselves, or we’ll simply get frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t seem to add up. It isn’t because God doesn’t exist, but because we are finite people trying to discern an infinite Being. There are some camps within the church who realize this and have come to the erroneous conclusion that we should bypass the mind completely–and that’s where a lot of flakiness happens. I’m not suggesting we do that at all; our minds are a great gift, and we shouldn’t despise them. I’m only saying that for anyone to truly embrace God, I think it has to be on a level that goes beyond the scope of our minds. Jesus Himself gives us a clue that this is true when He said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) He also mentioned being “born again”, and specified that we must be born both of water and of the spirit in order to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:5) This thing is more than mind; it is also spirit.
In my own journey, I’ve been disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, discouraged, and even traumatized. Lots of things I assumed to be true weren’t true at all. But one of the reasons I believe so strongly in God despite these struggles is that I guess I have a sense of the spirit beyond what my mind can explain. I have experienced the Person of God in ways that I simply cannot deny, despite my inability to explain it or even to convince others of its reality. I just know. Even this week I’ve had several occasions where I had impressions or insights beyond my ability to know, and I knew it to be the voice of God interacting with me. I couldn’t rationally prove it to you with words here on this blog, but neither do I feel the need to prove it. God, after all, isn’t an idea to be grasped, but a Person to be experienced–not on a flesh-and-blood level (at least this time), but as Spirit. Beyond my own disappointments, I guess I’ve always realized somehow, while I do use my mind to ask questions and grapple with issues of faith, I don’t rely on my mind as the sole litmus test for the legitimacy of God. I trust in the existence of God more than I trust in my own ability to figure Him out.
And that’s ultimately what real faith is all about, isn’t it? Faith is not being able to explain something, but rather it is the ability to trust when we cannot explain it.
If I’m being honest, I think perhaps one of the reasons stories of people losing their faith rattles me is that it makes me wonder if that could ever happen to me. If someone who was once convinced that God was with them and for them somehow found themselves doubting, then denying their faith, could I somehow be convinced at some point that there is no God? It’s a scary thought, indeed. I suppose what it does for me is makes me realize more than ever that my own sense of reason is not to be fully trusted, if for no other reason than that I do not have the big picture. I must always remember that God is bigger than my mind, that I must lean on Him (the Person of Christ) at a level beyond my own understanding.
One final thought to end the morning’s ramblings. I’m reminded of a scene in the film The Count of Monte Cristo where the hero Dantes is in prison holding his fellow prisoner, a former priest, as he is dying. The priest warns him: “God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.'” When Dantes replies, “I don’t believe in God,” the priest’s dying words are, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
What a comforting thought, and one that brings me hope for myself, as well as the two atheists I talked about so freely in this post. The Bible puts it this way, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13) I have to believe that even when we struggle with our faith, and even if we reach the wrong conclusions, God doesn’t give up on us–even if we give up on Him. God hasn’t given up on my blogger friend, and never will.

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A Question of Trust

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Categories: faith

If you’re a long time reader, you might get a chuckle at this obvious understatement…but I’m the kind of guy who likes to figure stuff out.

πŸ™‚

One of the main reasons this blog even exists is that it becomes a processing point for my thoughts, as my logical mind tries to make sense of my spiritual journey and tries to draw conclusions from the evidence. I often question myself as a creative person, because I’m probably one of the most left-brained creative types I know. (The Director and The Wild One are decidedly not so.) πŸ™‚

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A Response to Some Honest Questions

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Categories: "Love Is...", faith, love

Take this for what it is…but I felt like bringing a discussion in the comments up here to the front page.

Last night, someone identified only as “oj700” commented on this post I actually wrote one year ago tomorrow, entitled “Love…Does Not Seek Its Own.” I want to publish his/her remarks exactly as written:

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What These Days Call For: Thoughts on Faith and Hardship

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Categories: current issues, faith

(This post is part of a synchroblog on “Faith in Times of Trial.” Other participants will be listed below as the links are provided and the list grows.)

If there’s one thing we can be certain about, it’s uncertainty. πŸ™‚ And these days we’re living in seem to be proof.

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Where We Are Leaning

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Categories: current issues, faith

All you have to do to feel a healthy dose of fear these days is listen to the news. All this stuff about the economy, the desperate need for a bailout, the Congress defeating it, the stock market plummeting…I don’t even play the market, and don’t have investments there, and it’s enough to make me queasy. So I can imagine what people are going through whose retirement accounts and/or jobs are on the line right now.

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Between Seasons (or, "The Decompression Chamber")

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Categories: faith, Meanderings (look it up)

It’s downright chilly outside this morning. Kind of unusual for Tulsa in early September. We don’t really start feeling cooler weather until nearer October.

It’s interesting how the weather fluctuates between seasons. When you are at the end of summer, but autumn hasn’t yet begun–some days it feels like summer, and some days it feels like fall, like nature can’t quite make up its mind.

We have four seasons, and we identify a certain type of climate with each of them. But if you think of it, at least four other times of the year, we are transitioning between seasons. How stark the difference is between seasons often depends on where you live on the planet…but there are these four times of the year when nature can’t seem to decide.

I think that we go through seasons in our life journey as well, and in our journey with God. They don’t necessarily cycle in fours, and they certainly don’t follow the timetable of our calendar (dang it). But these seasons exist. And because they do change, you sometimes find yourself in that in-between place. Some days it feels like summer, and some days like fall–and some days it feels like both, or neither. Some people call this “transition.” And when you’re someone who tends to like predictability…transition can be very uncomfortable. Especially when it goes on and on….

I specifically feel as though I’ve been between seasons all year. I feel like there’s something new on the horizon that I can’t quite see or touch, and yet all the while the same-old-same-old has become increasingly intolerable. We’re sci-fi nuts in our family, so sometimes I’ve used the analogy of a “decompression chamber” to describe what I feel–like the change in environment is so stark that we have to go into one of those little rooms where all the doors are shut, and we can experience the gradual change from one environment to another.

I sure wish these rooms were bigger, though. And I wish there were pictures on the walls or something.

This place feels so uncertain for me that I sometimes wonder if I’ve mis-stepped, somehow gotten away from my purpose, gotten away from the stream somehow. But then I look back and I see those doors closed behind me, doors that I didn’t pull shut. I remember that I’m not really in this place by choice, that I didn’t really walk away from anything.

But…if these doors behind me are shut, if that season is truly over…what’s keeping this door from opening in front of me?? Is something wrong? Is something blocking it? WHAT’S GOING ON??? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME OUT THERE???

Sorry…didn’t mean to shout. πŸ™‚ And sorry for mixing up my metaphors. We were talking about seasons, weren’t we?

I guess I’m using these things to try and describe how this feels. There are days when I wish for the joy of the past season, and there are days when I look with hope to the joys of the next season. But lots of the time, I just feel like nothing around me is familiar anymore. And personally, I hate that feeling.

I feel like there is no longer any life in past seasons, that if I try to gravitate back to them, I will find only death. But I feel increasingly frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be anything yet to replace that old season. I’m just in this in-between place, where stuff is apparently not in my control, and I’m just along for the ride.

Those who have been reading this blog for awhile…you remember I’m a recovering control freak, don’t you? πŸ™‚ ARRRGGGGH! (No…I better not pound this table. I might need that hand later.)

Ultimately, I guess that’s the issue. We don’t really control the seasons; we have to trust God with them. We can pray, we can seek for the answers (and we should). But at the end of the day, it comes down to trust. More and more, I’ve come to realize that true faith–that is, trust–is more about the unknowns and the apparent contradictions. We don’t just believe God for the things we want to happen–we trust Him with the unknowns, with the things that don’t make sense.

God doesn’t abandon us in the in-between times–even when He doesn’t seem to be quick to answer our many questions. He’s here with me, and this much I do know. I know He’s with me, and I know He sees the big picture, and I know He’s steering this ship that is my life. So for however long I am in between seasons, or in the decompression chamber, or wherever the heck I am…I must choose daily to trust Him with the unknowns, and with the things beyond my control–to lean my very life and soul upon him, day to day. This, to me, is what living by faith is about.

And if I’m reading the Bible correctly…faith isn’t just about the in-between seasons. This is how the just shall live.

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The Director’s Spiritual Journey (or "Will Our Kids Be Okay??")

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Categories: children, faith, food for thought

A couple of weeks ago, Kathy wrote an intriguing post raising the question shared by many who are on similar journeys of departure from “normal” Christian expressions: “What will become of our children?”

A couple of days ago, I got an email from a friend who is thinking about leaving his institutional church to start a house church, and he posed similar questions about how to help support his child spiritually during the in-between period.

The issue of our children’s welfare is huge, because it hits such a sensitive place in our hearts. Here’s how Kathy put it:

“…lots of people i know have shifted their beliefs about God & life but when it comes to their kiddos, they are still quite adamant about making sure somehow they go to youth group & ‘real church’ and learn about God in the typical ways.”

It’s almost like institutional Christianity is so ingrained in our lives and culture that even for those who are leaving the institutions to find more “real” ways to follow Jesus…we still harbor just a twinge of doubt–like we’re gambling with our faith just a little bit with the decision to leave. And we’re willing to take that risk ourselves, but we don’t want to put our kids at risk–if indeed it is a risk. We feel safer with what we feel are more “tried-and-true” methods when it comes to them.

That, of course, presumes that institutional Christianity actually is a safer method.

I wouldn’t presume to be an expert on this topic; I’ve made plenty of mistakes with my child (and with other people’s kids also), and all I have to offer to the conversation is my experience. But my own son The Director has literally grown up in the context of our transition out of the institutions; and while I can’t speak for him, I have watched his own journey with interest. I’d like to share a little bit of what has happened with him.

I think God must have already been preparing us for this season back when we were still leading worship in an institutional setting–because for some reason The Director was not raised speaking the typical Christian vernacular. This was never made more plain than the time when he was 4 or 5 years old, playing in the McPlayland thingy at McDonald’s, when he asked another child’s father, “Do you worship God?” (Actually, he had a little bit of a speech impediment, so it was more like, “Do you worship Dodd?”)

The father stopped short, raised his eyebrows, looked at us, and said, “I’ve never heard anyone ask me that question like that before.” And that’s when we realized we’d never taught The Director to refer to believers as “Christians”! As worship leaders, we were always encouraging people to worship God–and that’s the only way he knew how to pose the question.

Since that time, The Director has had a front-row seat to the whole process of our departure from the system. He has watched us be exploited and abused on multiple levels by people working in that system. He’s watched us struggle with venturing into unfamiliar waters, watched us try (and fail) to make our ministry work within the old patterns. He’s seen us struggle with our own faith as our religion failed us. And he’s had some struggles and questions of his own.

But he’s seen some other things, too. He’s seen God’s faithfulness to our family; he’s seen prayers answered, and provision come. He’s seen us admit our mistakes and learn from them. And probably most important–he’s seen us doing our best to live a real and honest faith in front of him, encouraging him to follow along with us without shoving it down his throat.

I think the two fears I’ve struggled most with concerning The Director have been 1) the fear of losing him (probably all parents deal with that one); and 2) the fear that he would not follow Jesus when he was old enough to choose. And yet, I think we knew enough to realize that ultimately, that would have to be his own choice, or it would not be worth anything to him. I didn’t just want some token sinner’s prayer to assure my own heart of his salvation; I wanted him to experience and love Jesus as much as I did. And The Wild One and I both knew that a faith and love like that has to be born in the heart, not programmed by religious ritual.

For us, anyway, that approach seems to have been the best one for him. He is a strong believer, and his faith is his own. He doesn’t believe because his parents do; he believes because as part of our journey, he has experienced Jesus for himself. This is how I described him on Kathy’s blog:
  1. He has a strong sense of justice.
  2. He has no tolerance at all for churchy Christianity, wants no part of it. We can barely get him to step foot into any church building.
  3. He has no set β€œquiet time” to speak of, but talks to God as he goes.
  4. He has been turned off by every youth group he’s encountered; he thinks the kids are fake.
  5. He has non-Christian friends who disagree with his beliefs but who respect him. He can interact with them freely without following them into sin. He has a strong moral compass.
  6. He loves Jesus very much, and wants to use his gifts to make a difference in the world.
  7. He gets excited about any endeavor he hears of that shares Jesus in a real way without being religious.

He is not what I would call a “safe” Christian, in that he doesn’t speak the Christian-ese lingo or do all the churchy things that make us feel better about our children’s faith. But I do believe he is a true Christian–that the faith he has is real, as is his relationship with God. And that matters more to me than any of the other stuff.

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More About Leaning

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Categories: faith, food for thought, Meanderings (look it up)

So I’ve continued to ponder the subject of faith being a matter of trust more than just a matter of belief, and about what it means to lean oneself on the Lord. (Read here to catch the last post to know what I’m talking about.)

There’s actually something about the idea of leaning on God that can be a bit troubling to some. I’m thinking specifically about those who say religion in general (and Christianity, in particular) is a crutch for the weak. It’s true enough that the idea of faith being “leaning” signifies dependence, even need. Certainly not a picture of strength that would be obvious to the world. And there’s also the modern thought pattern that says we should not trust in anything we cannot see or prove through natural means.

But here’s what I’ve come to realize. First…I don’t think there really is any such thing as a true “un-believer”, as in someone who has no faith at all. We all have faith; we all believe in something, and the truth is, we all take some things on trust that cannot be proven. Take the concept of creation versus evolution, just as an example. Which takes more faith–to believe that a Divine Being created the universe on purpose, out of nothing; or to believe that despite astronomical odds, everything we see evolved by pure chance–that somehow the universe won the lottery? Each point of view can cite evidence; neither point of view can offer indisputable proof. Both creationists and evolutionists are leaning on unprovable assumptions. That’s faith. Whichever way you happen to lean–you are still leaning. So it isn’t a question of who has faith and who doesn’t; it’s a question of where we are placing that faith. Everyone is leaning on some unproven truth somewhere–simply because there are always intangibles that we cannot explain and cannot prove.

That brings me to the next thought–about faith being a crutch, and leaning being an undesirable thing. Not only does everyone have faith–everyone needs a crutch. Everyone leans, because everyone has to. Every single one of us is broken in some way, everyone in need of healing. Nobody is perfect. Let’s just call a spade a spade: people who present themselves as completely independent are lying to themselves and everyone else. It’s like the guy who was asked if he thought Jesus was a crutch, and replied, “Maybe so, but if you’re crippled, that’s not a bad thing.” If we are honest with ourselves, we all have some form of crippling in our lives; and for that reason, like it or not, we are all leaning on something. So…we are all leaning, because we’re all crippled. And a crutch is NOT a bad thing. πŸ™‚

All that said…once again, it is not a matter of who has faith and who does not, or who is leaning and who isn’t. The question is…where are you leaning? What, or whom, are you leaning upon?

So what does that mean? Doesn’t sound very nice to accuse all humanity of being weaklings, does it? But there is a key to having strength, according to the Bible. That is the paradox: we gain strength through leaning.

I’m thinking of Isaiah 40, where it says, “They that wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” The word renew also implies “exchange”. When we lean on the Lord, we actually exchange our weakness for His strength.

A friend of mine put it this way. He said if we are burdened down with a load and are top-heavy under the weight, we can bear it without faltering if we lean upon something immovable. (He demonstrated this by pressing his own weight against a wall.) Simple physics says when we lean like that, we actually are transferring the force of that burden onto the thing we lean upon. Because we lean upon the wall, our load leans upon it, too.

This really is the picture that helped me learn about faith at a time when I desperately needed it. By learning to lean upon God–Someone strong, immovable–I felt my burdens shift, I felt stronger. I exchanged my strength.

I guess I’m saying all this to say…if you’re going to lean–and you will lean–it’s best to find a place to lean that can carry the burden, that can help you exchange your strength. In my humble opinion, there’s only one place for man to lean that is entirely trustworthy.

Jesus put it this way: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt: 11:28)

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Leaning

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Categories: faith, Meanderings (look it up)

A few years ago, when my religion was failing me, a lot of that season was actually about un-learning and re-learning the concept of faith.

Being raised with a charismatic, Word-of-Faith background, my whole picture of faith was to take Scripture that applied to my case, pray, confess the word, and believe with all my heart that what I wanted to happen, would happen. Despite all claims to the contrary–to me, it was a formula I worked. And if it didn’t work, I must have done something wrong.

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