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?