Categories
Christian Living

The thread

“It’s like I’m hanging onto my faith by a thread. I just don’t know what to do anymore.” 

It’s a powerful image, isn’t it? A hand desperately clinging to a tiny thread connecting him to the Eternal. A weary hand outstretched, tearful eyes, and a gravitational pull towards a threadless life.

When someone says that to me I wonder if their soul is literally dangling over a faithless abyss separating them from the faithful life they know? Are they really thinking that the afterlife in hell, separated from God, would be better than the hell they are living in the present? Maybe. Sometimes. Yes.

Most often, pain or frustration brings them to this place. Maybe they suddenly lost a loved one? Or maybe their vocational dreams just evaporated? Or maybe their marriage is over? Or maybe they just can’t stand their church anymore?

The circumstances, there are always circumstances, are what has pushed them to this place.

Whatever it is– it brings them to the edge of their faith. A person says that phrase, “I’m hanging on by a thread” as a warning. They are really saying… “I’m thinking of letting go of my faith.

I know that because I’ve been there. Too many sorrows, too much crap, too much annoyance has pushed me dangling over that abyss more times than I’d care to admit. Hanging there by a thread the most honest thought in my mind is– “I just don’t need this anymore.

Want to know a secret? 

In my experience, it takes letting go of that last stupid thread of faith to find faith.

That’s my sympathetic advice to friends who say that to me. Let go of the thread. To paraphrase Alice in Wonderland, let’s see where this rabbit trail goes.

It’s positively illogical, isn’t it? Sometimes in order to find faith you need to let go of faith. But that’s exactly how it works.

When you let go, when you fall down the abyss and land at the bottom. There a new reality emerges for you. Your journey might reveal that the thread you were holding onto wasn’t even faith in God at all. Maybe it was faith in your job? (Or your faith WAS your job) Maybe that thread was tied to an abusive organization or person? Maybe that thread was tied to your family history? Or your child-like dreams? Or you never really asked yourself what your faith was because you just got so busy being a faithful person you never took the time to discover who you actually had faith in?

And the crazy thing is that in that abyss of letting go– God is still there. He is still faithful. He is still good. He will find you. And you might just find a brand new faith.

So that’s my advice. Just let go. 

Discover just how omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God really is. I’m not saying put Him to the test. I’m saying put you to the test. 

My experience has shown me time and time again: When I let go of the thread of faith I’m holding onto, I discover newfound freedom in faith I never knew existed.

Photo credit: Stephen Montgomery via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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Categories
Christian Living

A Fall to Grace

One day morning will dawn, your eyes will open, and you will awaken with the literal reality that the dream you had for yourself is over and it’s time to move on.

I can think to specific days in 2000, 2003, 2008, and most recently in summer 2011 when I rolled out of bed with the knowledge that I’d just crossed a line. The dreams I knew were gone. And I had to find new dreams.

In each case, those mornings felt like I’d just fallen from a place of positional power, security, and recognition. Even in going from one role to another– even if that new role was “better” than the one I’d left, it still felt like a fall.

Perhaps it is a guy thing? But much of who you are and how you think of yourself on a day-to-day basis is wrapped up in what you do, who you work with, and the people you do stuff with. When that’s gone– whether by choice or not– you experience this unmooring free fall feeling.

While other leaders have experienced ugly falls from grace I have never experienced that. Instead, in times where the things I knew are suddenly gone because I’ve moved on to something else… I’ve experienced something I can only describe as a fall to grace.

The free fall feeling of change always lands in the loving arms of a God who has nurtured and cared for me from the beginning. And those strong palms support my back as I try to get my bearings. God’s grace supports me, lifts me up, and the warmth of that palm reminds me that I’ll be fine.

To know Hope you must know Despair

Despair is not the enemy of hope. Frustration and anxiety may not be your friends but they are repeatedly wrestled on your way to hope. Over the years, plenty of people have called me overly hopeful– almost stupid hopeful. From my eyes I only know summits of hope because I have been in great depths of despair. In the darkness of that valley I’ve cried out to God, “What am I doing here! I can’t do this anymore. I hate every last step of this! AAAAHHHH!!!!” The echoes of those moments haunt me.

But when you’ve been there– when you’ve screamed in that valley and heard those cries echoed back empty? Then you discover that any step above that is a step towards hope.

But knowing hope, truly living a hope-filled, is a reflex against despair.

To know Faith you must know Doubt

It perplexes me that some have made doubt the enemy of faith. I would argue that you can’t know what faith is until you know what doubt is. Both are invisible. Both are real. And both are internal, silent motivators of our daily actions.

In putting both feet on either side of the faith/doubt teeter totter I desire balance while one always wins over the other. I’m either standing on faith or standing on doubt.

Falling into the arms of grace isn’t an action of doubt or faith. But the resolve that comes through pushing against doubts gravity to take action is a step of faith. That is what reassures me that grace truly will catch me.

To know Grace you must know Failure

One of my mentors, at each of these moments over the past decade, has asked me… “What are the things you are running away from by doing this and what are the things you are running to?” Even in roles where everyone has labeled me a success I know there were failures. I know there were expectations unmet. I know I expressed attitudes I shouldn’t have. There were many times when I worked on what I wanted to work on to the neglect of what others thought I should be working on.

Even on the road to success there are many failures you have to deal with. Being honest about that with myself and with others helps me discover what grace really means in my life.

Because of my failures I don’t deserve anything good. But good keeps coming my way. That’s not a reflection of my character or timing or anything else. But it is a reflection of the character of God.

Friends- I have no idea what is going on in your life. But I do know that we will all encounter times where we experience free fall. My encouragement? Fall into the receiving hands of grace.

Categories
Christian Living

The Community – Individual Continuum

Theologically, we all know that you can’t experience the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus without community. Jesus invites us not to merely partake in communion but to live in communion with one another. (A throwback to the Garden of Eden)

Sociologically, we live in society built around the individual. We live in single family dwellings. We have our own rooms and our own stuff. We drive cars instead of taking the bus. We eat in individual pods of friends or by ourselves. (This individualism knows no boundaries and is the opposite of Jesus’ life in community.)

The way we experience church in our society is intimately and inseparably syncretized to our culture, even in direct opposition to the model given to us in Acts. (See Pate’s Communities of the Last Days & Jones’ Teaching of the Twelve for a scholarly look at the practical implications of life in community for the early church.)

Plotting my walk with Jesus on the Community – Individual Continuum

In the last 24 hours I’ve been wrapped up in this simple drawing above. In fairness, it’s just a device to explore some assumptions I have vs. realities I live. So if you stretch it too far it falls apart. At the same time I can’t get away from the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ very life is an invitation to walk away from Satan’s desire to separate us from communion with God. To walk with Jesus is to walk in communion with his people AND with God.

Some examples:

  • Daily Bible reading (Mostly individual, though I often share what I’m reading with friends or here on the blog.)
  • Prayer  (90% of the time prayer is individual)
  • Small groups (A few hours per week, and we haven’t met since winter, so I suck at this one)
  • Attending church (I’ll generously put this near the middle. It’s communal, even though there’s almost no interaction with others.)
  • My home (We’ve had people live with us, stay with us, etc. But if I’m honest it’s way more about our family than community living. Nothing like in Acts)
  • My work (This is getting better and worse at the same time. Thus, the life of a freelancer)
  • My service (I do a lot of stuff, but it’s all “what I do” and not “what we do.”)
  • My kids education (I’d love for this to be a community effort, but it’s not. It’s all individualistic.)

My challenge to you would be to take 30 minutes and plot out your day-to-day life along this continuum for the sake of discovery. If you want to get really dangerous, after you do that read the first 5-6 chapters of the book of Acts.

I don’t know where this is going. But I do see the need to reject the individualism of my society and further enter into communion both with Jesus & his people.

What about you? What are practical ways you are living in communion?

Categories
Christian Living

If in Doubt… A Prayer for the Week

He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?” Genesis 3:1b

O, the temptress. I hear you in the shadows. You slither into my lonely moments and whisper in my ear.

And yet… despite you. To spite you. Stomping you out! Ignoring your coy tactics! I make a choice. I rest in my choice. I cling to my choice.

I will not allow your sneaky voice of doubt a defining foothold. No whisper, seeking clarity, will recast my mission. I will not be defined by you, I will define you!

Instead:

  • If in doubt… I’ll teach the Bible.
  • If in doubt… I’ll say I don’t know.
  • If in doubt… I’ll take the challenge.
  • If in doubt… I’ll spend time with people my own age.
  • If in doubt… I’ll compliment and encourage instead of criticize or question.
  • If in doubt… I’ll be bold with what God’s laid on my heart.
  • If in doubt… I’ll invest in people instead of projects.
  • If in doubt… I’ll go with less planning, more doing.
  • If in doubt… I’ll say yes to a wild idea.

Yes, these are scary times. And scary times make counter-productive doubts seem reasonable.

I’ve made a choice to stand as a crazy man, convinced that God can use me to change things. Circumstances mean nothing. Opposition is a joke. Logic is often illogical. Realism is veiled fatalism!

While it seems natural to teeter-totter, like Thomas, between faith in what God can do and doubt in what I can barely allow myself to dream about God doing– I reject doubt’s gravitational pull and fling myself forward in faith.

Let doubt not define me today. Instead, allow me to define my life as one who overcomes doubts with  radical, ridiculous, simple, and audacious faith.

Lord, hear my prayer.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen. 

Categories
Christian Living

Lead us to the river bank

Photo by Patrick Medved via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Can you imagine what was running through Moses’ head as he stood there on the bank of the Nile waiting for Pharoah to arrive? (Exodus 7)

  • I’m doing what God told me to do. (Kept on Repeat.)
  • Uh, why didn’t I write that down? Did God say today or was it next week?
  • Why didn’t God turn like a master blaster grenade launcher into a snake? Why this stupid stick? I feel like an idiot with a stick.
  • This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Aaron, is this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done? Don’t answer that.
  • God didn’t say what Pharaoh and his posse might do to me. Aaron, did God say He’s got our back if they shoot arrows at us?
  • What if this doesn’t work and I’m just a moron yelling at Pharaoh on the side of the river? A burning bush told me so, yeah that will stand up in court.
  • I look like an idiot. What am I doing here?

Standing there. On the banks of the Nile. Pharaoh shows up and Moses only has plan A. If this doesn’t work he’s a dead man.

Faith Like Moses

Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve stood on the river banks yelling and demanding something so big and so important that you were willing to stake everything for it?

These are questions I’m asking myself as I start this week…

When does my theology get in the way of my faith? Are there things I believe God can’t do? Are there problems I’ve been told are unsolveable? Am I afraid to seek the miraculous? Am I afraid what might happen if I am dumb enough to obey God’s command, wake up in the morning, take my brother and my staff and just wait on the banks of the river and say the exact words He gave me to say?

The Bible is full of stories of men and women dumb enough to believe in the impossible. Today we look at them as heroes. But they defied logic, they felt dumb, and their friends/family probably told them they were dumb. (Until they pulled it off.)

They pushed aside Plan B, C, and D and just obeyed the Lord’s commands. They stood on river banks yelling at Pharaoh. They lit soaking rocks on fire. They gave birth to children in their nineties. They looked at blind men and told them to see. They got out of the boat and walked on water.

My prayer for the week: God, lead us to your river bank. Make us a people stupid enough to obey you. Bring miracles which explode our theology. Allow us to put your commands above our plans. We are desperate for you to be God and for us to be Your people.  Amen.

Categories
Christian Living

Stop learning and start acting

Photo by Meredith Farmer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m surprised how much listening and reading we are expected to do as Christians.

  • Listen to a sermon each week – 35-45 minutes
  • Read from the Bible each day – 15-30 minutes
  • Listen to people read Bible verses and sing songs at church – 60 minutes
  • Attend a weekly mid-week service, small group, or youth group – 30-60 minutes
  • Listen to podcasts of even more sermons – 60-90 minutes per week

Is the Christian life just about listening and reading or is it supposed to be about learning?

Because if it’s about learning– I don’t learn very much by listening and reading in other areas of my life.

  • I have only read 1-2 books and maybe watched a couple of television shows about parenting, but I’ve learned how to parent.
  • Outside of the Bible, I can’t think of any non-fiction book I’ve finished… ever. I start books but never finish them.
  • I go to a job each day where I learn lots each day, and I’ve never read a book or listening to a lecture on almost any of it. “On the job training” has defined my work life.
  • I’m learning how to garden, but I haven’t read a book about it and I wouldn’t even know where to start to find a lecture about it.

On and on. In most areas of my life I learn mostly by doing and almost never by sitting passively and listening or reading the same book over and over again.

The Christian life is so passive. It is repulsive. We believe all of the right things and act on none of it.

Who is all of this instruction for?

The people hearing it or the person teaching it?

If I’m honest, I learn way more when I’m asked to teach from the Bible than I do if I just sit on my hands for 30 minutes and listen. And yet pastors teach and everyone else is expected to just listen… and even if we learn something no one is ever going to ask us to put it into action, nor follow-up with us, nor hold us accountable. Each Sunday is a new data dump. There will never be a test. We’ll never be asked to write papers. No one ever asks us if we are actually learning.

If the Christian life were a class– church is the lecture series we audit.

Did Jesus die so I could go to church and listen to sermons I’ll never put into action?

Is that what we really believe? All of the empirical evidence seems to point to that. Our systematic theology says no, but our practical theology says yes.

For all the messages that have been preached to me, the thousands of hours of Bible study, and the thousands of hours of mid-week teaching I’ve received you’d think, the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested into me– at some point, someone would look at me and say, “Dude, you know everything you need to know. Get out of here and live this stuff. Stop learning and start doing!

That’s never going to happen. Why? Because we measure passive activity and mislabel it as success. We lie to ourselves by rewarding the wrong people, we label passive reception of God’s word as good, and putting the Word to action is tertiary.

It’s not supposed to be this way.

James, who knew Jesus’ teaching well, was right. He addressed this danger directly.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Get out and live the Gospel. Stop learning and start acting on what you’ve learned.

Jesus didn’t die for you so that you could go to church and hear people preach. Of course you don’t believe that.

Live otherwise.

Categories
Christian Living

A faith that costs you nothing is worthless

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. Luke 9:1-6

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:22-23

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. John 6:60-66

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.Luke 18:22-25

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:54-60

If I am laying my life on an altar… what is the sacrifice? What is the cost? What are people testifying about my life? Am I doing things worthy of a stoning?

Or am I just standing around, being religious, holding the jackets while my friends stone someone?

Categories
Church Leadership

Freedom to Doubt

There is great integrity in a leader who fosters doubt in his congregation

Humans possess curious natural instincts. Of all of creation, no creature is more curious than humans.

God created us with this natural instinct. It’s as evident in the Garden as it is in your heart today.

Great faith is produced within an ecosystem where question is a free fulcrum between doubting God and having great trust.

Doubt is not the enemy of faith.

Indoctrination is.

Doubt is normal, it lives in a persons heart from his first breath to his last.

Fear of questioning inhibits faith development.

Doubt is not the enemy of the church.

Fear of doubt is.

Great faith does not come through eliminating doubt.

Great faith comes when a person has measured doubt’s full weight and chosen faith.

Consider Thomas

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24-29

What’s the point?

Often times, the biggest doubter among you– given the freedom to doubt, will develop the deepest faith.

We are not called to eliminate doubt.

How did Jesus deal with Thomas’ doubt? He chastised him a little, but allowed Thomas to express his doubt. Jesus didn’t look down on Thomas because of his doubt. Instead he knew that by allowing Thomas the freedom to doubt, a faith weighed and tested, would generate great faith.

And as a result Jesus knew Thomas would become a rock solid believer and took the Gospel to India.

Categories
youth ministry

What Would Judas Do? Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and You

The youth ministry world is wrestling through the ramifications of what Christian Smith coined as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

What is MTD?

After interviewing 3,000 teenagers, the authors found that many young people believed in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Link

Since the original study came out about five years ago, youth workers have been scratching their heads, more research has been done, many books/articles have been written, and essentially we are all just trying to figure out both how we got to this point and how we can rebuild our ministries in ways that combat this.

As a simplest– I have often wondered if MTD in our students may be related to MTD in their youth pastor? In other words, are we even willing to consider that our own relationship with Jesus  (or lack thereof) may be leading students to follow our lead into MTD?

As I look in the mirror I am left to ask myself and my fellow youth workers some difficult questions.

  • Is youth ministry my vocation or is it my calling? (The latter isn’t an independent evaluation)
  • Am I still passionate about my relationship with Jesus?
  • Do I still love and chose to be faithful the Bride of Jesus? (His church, all of it.)
  • Are my actions reflective of my first love? (personalize Revelation 2:1-6)
  • Am I setting expectations in my teaching that are realistic for my students walk with Jesus? (Am I teaching Scripture in a way that is approachable and personal?)
  • Do I consider myself a manager of a program or a minister of the Gospel?
  • Do I still have the passion for lost teenagers that I had when I dedicated my life to this cause in 1993?

Let us look at ourselves with sober judgment and search our hearts; making adjustments and repentance a necessary part of that self-appraisal.

As I minister to students it is always my heart that they pick up my faith.

My fear is that in too many cases they are picking up a faith that is vastly different than the faith we want them to pick up.

Categories
haiti hmm... thoughts

Faith & Fear

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1

Can you imagine? 75 years old you hear from God loud and clear– leave, start a new life, leave everything behind.

Abram’s entire life was judged based on this one decision! Would his life be defined by faith or by fear?

The first thing that comes to my mind as I try to put myself in Abram’s shoes is fear:

  • How will I make the trip?
  • How will I start over?
  • My wife will kill me.
  • I’m 75 years old, the only move I’m making is to Florida

Yesterday, I was doing a little check-in on Tash’s morning radio show in Auckland. (You know, I’m huge there! Well… er, probably not.) And she asked me the one question I don’t have an answer for right now, “So Adam, what is going to change as a result of your trip to do relief work in Haiti?

It is the question I’m afraid of. I don’t really have an answer for that yet.

If I tally the faith I exhibit in my life I see a difference in the reconciliation. Fear is winning over faith.

As I talked to the Lord about it I kept coming back to that central question… right back to the defining moment in Tin CupWill your life be a life defined by radical faith, or will it be defined by an avoidance of fear?

What about you? What are ways you a living a life driven by faith and not fear? Teach me!