Tag Archives: faith

the most wonderful

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I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas music. And I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to when one is allowed to listen. I’ve been known to listen to Christmas music all during the season of Advent. I’ve been known to even begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I just told my students recently it was because there were no good turkey songs). I can even tell that I am truly getting into the spirit of the season when I bust out the Carpenter’s Christmas album. For me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year…and yet for some. Well they struggle with this season more than any other. Often times issues of grief or family drama or financial stress become even more prevalent during holiday seasons. For some this season even becomes the least wonderful time of the year. In a season that is meant to be marked by joy, peace, love, and hope, some find themselves struggling to find these very things in the midst of all the other issues that become more transparent as the holidays take hold.

And on some level I think it all hinges on that last aspect of the Advent practice…hope. The season of Advent, for those who aren’t aware, begins this Sunday and marks the beginning of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it is both a celebration of the initial coming of Christ and an anticipation of His return. And yet, we so often struggle with finding hope in the midst of this season. Many find themselves placing their hopes in things like the economy, politicians, national defense, etc. and as they often discover; this is no place for hope. When it comes to Advent, our hope takes on an incredible shape. Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4 The Advent hope of Christ return almost seems too wonderful when we read it in the context of our current situation, but this is what true hope should look like.

In a world of shopping malls, black Friday sales, twitter feuds, international diplomatic escalation, racial unrest, cancer, and the like we struggle to take comfort in the story that Advent ushers in. Sometimes it is too much to find ourselves marveling at the story of a young Jewish mother giving birth to a son in the midst of a small town in Judea. Sometimes we struggle to find hope in the shepherd’s vision or the Magi’s quest or the angel’s songs. These stories are too wonderful and too far removed from our present situation for us to take hold of hope in the midst of a competing narrative. Perhaps what is needed is for us to look forward to the coming Advent that will take hold of the broken systems of this world and redeem them. The hope of Isaiah the prophet becomes realized in the words of John the apostle in that concluding hope of scripture. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 May we come to find ourselves caught up in THIS wonderful season and hopeful promise as we anticipate the Advent of Christ once again.

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just believe

Lately I’ve found myself spending a good deal of time in the gospel of John. I’m currently teaching a Sunday school class on the “I am” statements, working our way chronologically through John in a Sunday evening Bible study and even the Lectionary has us encountering Christ through John. So needless to say I pretty much live there. The central theme throughout the book of John is that of belief. This belief and it’s benefits are spelled out pretty quickly in the prologue,  “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12 Even the most often quoted piece of the entire Bible contains this theme as well, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 But what does the gospel writer mean by belief?

I can’t help but think of the scene in the story of Peter Pan where Tinkerbell is poisoned by Captain Hook. In order to resuscitate her the audience (as this is the play version I am thinking of) must say they believe in fairies and clap their hands. As the audience claps, Tinkerbell is restored to life in the presence of their “belief”. But is this the “belief” that the gospel writer is referring to? The Greek word used throughout the book of John is the word pisteuō and William Mounce defines it as, “to believe, put one’s faith in, trust, with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow”. And I think that this last portion of the definition is where the gospel writer is taking us…and rightfully so.

The thesis of the gospel of John is quite simple. He writes so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Belief that Jesus is the Son of God cannot in any way, shape or form be separated from what one does with that belief. It cannot be a statement of mere vocal expression. Because when one says that Jesus is God’s son, one is saying that Jesus fully embodies the Divine force that created every speck of existence and therefore that which he enacts and commands for us carries that same weight. In his trilemma, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.” So truly I tell you, there is no such thing as ‘just belief’. To say one believes that Jesus is the Son of God must transform one’s very existence and therefore create in each and every one of us an entirely new way of living. So where is your belief taking you today?


a bit shaky

One of my favorite table top games to play is Jenga. However I do not recommend playing this game with a 6-yr-old as their frustration with a loss can be a bit intense. For those of you not familiar with Jenga, it is a game with a tower involving multiple layers of 3 small wooden planks. In order to play one must remove a wood plank from the lower sections of the tower and stack that plank on top; forming a new layer. The game gets progressively unsteady as the tower is reshaped and eventually topples over to reveal the person who loses (Now you can see how a 6-yr-old might get upset…but it’s hilarious when daddy loses). I reference Jenga today because sometimes I think we often think of our faith walks in terms of a Jenga tower…but one in which we can’t ever remove any planks for fear of losing the whole construct. And then there are other people who seem to want to remove planks all the time and we wonder how their tower even remains upright. In her book Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s narrative voice the Rev. John Ames speaks to this a bit when he says, “It seems to me some people go around looking to get their faith unsettled”

I think the issue in this discussion lies with how we think about our faith. For many of us faith is something that must be iron-clad, unwavering and rationalistic proof of what we believe. And so even the slightest chink/change in the construct of what we believe could bring the whole thing tumbling down. For others of us our faith is a bit more fluid and we allow change to enter into the ebb and flow of what we believe. One might even find comfort in the words of Anne Lamott, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty.” But wherever you find yourself on this continuum, the one thing that we must all admit to ourselves is that what we espouse as far as belief is faith. It is hope in the thing we cannot prove upon which we stake our entire lives, will one day come to fruition. And that is difficult to comprehend sometimes.

The writer of the epistle of 1 Peter in the new testament encourages us with the following, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15 Sometimes we think about this “answer” as needing to be proof of our faith…some way to rationalize our belief to those we come into contact with. But truly the answer is evidence for our reason to hope.  And how is this lived out? By staking our lives on that which we believe. We believe in God the Father almighty. And in Jesus Christ his only Son who made a way for our redemption. We believe in the Holy Spirit that sustains us and gives birth to the Church that is the hope for the world. And we frame our lives around these core beliefs. Perhaps other planks may come and go with our faith walk, but we have staked our life on these essentials with aren’t shaken and create in us hope for tomorrow. Rupertus Meldenius’ quote holds more truth to us today than ever before when it comes to our faith in an ever shifting cultural landscape, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Faith rests upon the essentials. This is where our hope is realized. And we give our hope to the world with gentleness and respect (love) and we begin see the world transformed.


daniel

It was a little over three weeks ago when he stumbled into our church. I say that because he really wasn’t in the best of shape and had trouble walking. But he came and I greeted him in the normal fashion and gave him a visitor’s packet and told him it was nice to have him in church. It was a different kind of Sunday as we had a special speaker and at the end when we had an altar call Daniel came forward. I went down to pray with him and he confessed that he hadn’t been in church in probably about twenty years. We then prayed together for his re-commitment to Christ and to following after Him. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship for me.

I saw Daniel a couple of more times that week as he attended our Sunday evening Bible study and our Wednesday night gathering. I came to find out he was proficient in Biblical Hebrew although we was self taught…who teaches themselves Hebrew? He was very Biblically knowledgeable, but he had also had negative experiences with the church before, so he was a little gun shy about getting involved. Daniel also struggled with self worth because of his health issues and had several struggles because of that. But I reassured him that at our church that wasn’t something that we based your value on and we were excited to join with him on his journey of restoration and wholeness in Christ.

Another week went by and occasionally I would get calls from Daniel. Wanting to talk or see if he was doing ok with church (he honestly wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly). He was even worried about the sharing he did at our Sunday night Bible study when he floored us all by reminding us that we relate the love of Christ better to one another out of our brokenness instead of our piety (perhaps he should have been the one leading the group). One night he called around the time I was putting the kids to bed, and even though I was tired, I took his call anyway. He was having a pretty rough day and he referenced an illustration I had used in church about needing God, but needing someone with ‘skin on’. Without really thinking about it I got his address, drove over to his house and when he answered the door I gave him the biggest hug I could muster (it might have even gotten awkward). But then we spent almost an hour just talking about life, philosophy, music and more. I think he was surprised to learn that his pastor was familiar with punk bands from the 90s. We even talked about his upcoming baptism as he had requested to be baptized after coming back to Christ.

Unfortunately he missed our next Wednesday and Sunday because he had gotten sick and then Sunday afternoon he called to apologize for his absence. We talked a bit as I was preparing my Sunday evening study on the book of Daniel, his namesake. We even made plans for his baptism and he had made peace with the idea of pouring for his Baptism as our baptistery would not have been very accessible for him. We talked a little bit about his health and weight and I reminded him that his worth was not determined by those things, but by who God saw in him and the journey he was beginning anew with Christ. After a while I assured him that we would look towards doing a Baptism service in a couple of weeks and then we got off the phone.

The next day of the week is one I always look forward to as it is my day off. While the rest of the world hates Mondays, I love them. I am never able to sleep in so I usually have my morning coffee by 6 AM at the latest. As I was finishing up my coffee the phone rang and I saw it was Daniel’s number. But when I answered…it wasn’t Daniel. It was his mother and I sat there numbly listening as she explained that Daniel had had a heart attack the night before and had passed away early that morning. I tried to summon up the correct pastoral response for her, but I was just floored and immediately sick at my stomach…I’m sure I said something like, “I’m so sorry…let us know if we can do anything…” But I know it wasn’t enough.

I found myself going to the shower and just weeping. Why? Why so soon? God he was making changes. He was going to be better. He was going to do better. He was going to be my friend.

And honestly I don’t have any answers. I know he wasn’t in good health and I understand how human biology works and what had taken place. And in my spiritual frame of reference I know Daniel is now made whole before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that one day I will see him again as God has always seen him. But I miss him. And I wish I had more time. I still do.

So hug your friends. Kiss your spouse and kids. And know that this life is short and we never know what tomorrow may bring.


dangerous, deadly and doubt-full

My wife and I don’t have cable. In fact, we cut the cable a long time ago. Now this doesn’t mean we don’t necessarily enjoy TV, it just means we spend less and binge watch more thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. That being said Hulu recently ruined my life. In the last month they made the entirety of Seinfeld available for viewing. All of sudden man hands, the Soup Nazi, the sidler and a myriad of other characters were made available for my viewing pleasure once again. And in the midst of my binge watching I have begun to realize there was a lot more to these episodes than I originally thought. In fact, one of my favorites so far is called “The Opposite”. In this episode George Costanza decides that every decision he has made up to that point in his life has been the wrong decision and vows to then make the exact opposite decision of his initial leanings going forward. The result…his life all of a sudden becomes incredible. It really is an amazing episode.

These episodes have given me new ways to think about how they might relate to us in our Christian journey. There are quite a few things Jesus said while here on earth that I wrestle with. One of those verses goes something like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25 Death is not something I love thinking about, and yet here Jesus is reminding us the necessity of death for life. Unless a seed dies, there is no life. Unless I die there is no life. One of the things I have been ruminating on lately is what does that death look like in our world today. And I think it looks a lot like the death of certainty. Anne Lamont once said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. ..Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, and emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

Confession; I am a recovering know-it-all. There was a time where I could tell you exactly who God was, what He wanted for my life and what He expected of your life with fearless certainty. But nowadays, I’m not so certain. Oh I am still confident of the fact that Jesus loves me and that God has and is redeeming all things unto himself. But the other details I think are best lived out in journeying with others. If I am dying to myself, to my certainty, to my comfort daily all of a sudden it leaves a lot more space for God and for others. And maybe that is where we all need to find ourselves from time to time. A little less certain and a lot more faithful.


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