Archives For faith

Can I be honest?

Last week was an intense week of worry. Cheri and I had our first taste of the worry which all parents know. We know that we have signed on for a lifetime of worry.

Still, our first taste was extremely bitter.

Our week was filled with anxiety over the health of our unborn son. Not just ordinary health concerns. We were dealt revelations about the family’s genetics, premutations that pose threats to future generations. Visions of worst-case-scenarios filled our minds. My back even wrenched itself out of place on Wednesday. I still don’t have full mobility in my neck today after two chiropractic adjustments and a massage.

You know the doctors give you just enough information to worry, but not enough information to be able to give you guarantees. And so you do more tests, but the tests only do what the last tests did. They give you more worry.

By the end of the week, we had spoken to the right people who could give us the strongest reassurances that we could ever hope for. Our boy, in all likelihood, will be normal, healthy.

A week of agony, for nothing.

It’s true, ignorance is bliss. And people used to be a lot more ignorant. What did parents do before we know about all the ways our genetics can go haywire? They did not worry. What did people do before the nightly news broadcast stories of all the scary stuff around the world? They did not worry.

We suffer today, not just from information overload, but worry overload. Because much of the information we are exposed to causes us to react with anxiety, fear, worry, anger, and all of the other toxic, poisonous emotions that will slowly kill us like cancer.

Jesus knew the poison of worry. He told his disciples not to do it, and I don’t think he was being facetious. Today, many of us do not worry about the things the disciples concerned themselves with. But we have a whole lot of other worries. Tomorrow carries as many worries as it did 2,000 years ago. And the words of Jesus still hold true…

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Freeing our minds, our hearts and our bodies requires that we do this. That we not waste weeks on worthless worry. That we learn to trust that all things do in fact work for good.

What does Joel Osteen know that the rest of us don’t?joel-osteen-and-wife1

If you are not one of his fans, you would probably answer, “Nothing.”

There has been quite a little bit of chatter as of late about Victoria Osteen finally “outing” herself and her husband and the gospel they are really preaching. She summarized their philosophy by saying that when we obey God, we do not do it for God, but for ourselves. We do it because God’s greatest desire is for us to be “happy.” So this whole exercise of going to church, reading our Bibles, being Christians is not really for God, it’s for us.

Well those statements set off a little chain reaction among quite a bit of blog-land. “Finally,” we said, “at least we know what they really believe!” At least one mega-famous pastor is being honest about the false gospel he is preaching.

But wait a minute.

Take everything that you might believe about the Osteens, their church, their gospel, their wealth or their haircuts. Take all of that pent up frustration and wad it up into a big wet lump in your throat.

Because despite all of these things, as loathe as we may be to admit it, much of the evangelical church can learn something from the Osteens. We might even learn something about ourselves.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Peter getting out of the boat this weekend.

You know, the one where the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they think he’s a ghost. And so Peter dares the “ghost” to tell him to come out on the water.

And before Peter can even think twice, he acts recklessly and steps out of the boat.

There are very few times in our lives when we actually get a chance to step out of the boat, to take a big step of faith, not knowing if we are going to sink. Peter took his chances.

I’ve also been thinking about something else.

The eleven guys who did not get out of the boat.

I wonder what they said to one another.

“What is Peter doing?”

“That’s a bad idea.”

“He is going to sink!”

“I’ve read a blog about these guys who try to walk on water. I don’t agree with it.”

See, every precious time we get the chance to step out of our boat, there is going to be eleven (or a lot more) people who stay in the boat, and tell us why we should stay put. They are the concerned friends who urge “discernment.” They are the experts who prophesy disaster at every turn. They are the barely-informed Christians who think they have well-reasoned moral objection.

I have been seriously struggling with this recently, knowing that I have made choices, I have gotten out of my boat. And there are plenty of people who have an opinion about that. Mob mentality is alive and well and it keeps us in fear of ever leaving the little boundaries of the boats we are in.

“We are all in the same boat,” they say. Maybe it’s because no one is allowed to leave the boat.

All of the people in the boat mean well. But the result is the same. The voices of fear, anxiety, safety, guilt or shame always try to crowd in and hold us back. They try to tell us that our faith is too reckless. They try to tell us that God wants us to stay safely in the boat. They try to convince us that we are doing something wrong by getting out of the boat.

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You know, the hardest part of getting out of the boat might not be seeing the wind and the waves that are about to crash into us, but shutting out the voices who try to hold us back, wondering what could have been.

It’s a new day, a new week, a new school year for many of us including myself.

But in many ways, I don’t know how to begin, even to begin writing this new paragraph.

My classroom, for all of the chaos that it might contain, is actually something of a retreat from the outside world. And in many ways, I needed a retreat last week more than usual. You may have felt the same way. There are times when the world just does not make a whole lot of sense.

I’m not a sociologist. But what I think I saw on display last week was a whole lot of hate being exposed. It takes a lot of hate to create a system that oppresses people. The hate that oppresses also brings out hate and anger in the oppressed. I saw a lot of people rush to judgment, to judge people they do not even know. Passing easy judgment on people feels good, and it is another kind of hate, a disdain for others, a refusal to understand them.

Sometimes, hate is so casual, so quiet, so acceptable that it doesn’t even look like hate to most of us. It happens in increments of neglect. Maybe it is layer upon layer of lazy, purposeless hate that has built up like a blanket of dust on our culture.

Here is what I do know:

I know that Jesus had to command us to love one another. He had to make that command because love is hard. It is unintuitive. As much as we want to wax poetic about our common decency, I know that if my most honest moments, I have to work to love my neighbor as myself. I love myself far more than I love my neighbor. I accept my own sins, while I hate the sins of my neighbor (something Jesus did not command.) In fact, it is easy for me to love myself and hate my neighbor, simply by not caring about my neighbor.

Worse, it is our mutual disdain for each other that keeps us in the tragic place we find ourselves. It is hate that keeps us simmering, distracted from our larger problems. Hate keeps us socially and spiritually poor and weak. And no matter how much hate and judgment we indulge ourselves in, we always have more. It doesn’t run out the more we engage in it. It only increases.

If it was Jesus’ will that we all hate each other, judge each other, neglect each other, he would never have had to say anything at all. It is almost our default mode. People have recognized this for thousands of years. Take Euripides, the Athenian playwright.

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Here is what I know. This week, it is going to take a lot of work to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is going to take work to put down our judgment, our incessant opinions of others, to love, rather than to hate.

Who is up for the challenge?

Last week, Cheri and I went back to the doctor, a new doctor, an ob-gyn.

We are no longer in the hands of our fertility specialist…for now. So we went in early last week to check on the baby, the first time we had gotten a peek for about six weeks.

If you caught me on Facebook, you know we found out it’s a boy, which is great. I can relate to boys. But I would have loved a girl just as much, although I feel that I might have spoiled a girl more for some reason.

What was also great was how much we saw of the baby. Ten fingers, ten toes, a nose, lips and ears. We saw him turn his head, swallow, move his arms and legs. He was really pretty active for a one ounce person. Good muscle definition, like he must be doing baby yoga or something in there.

And I was thinking this week about all of the dreams that every parent dreams for their child, and really all of the dreams we dream for ourselves. We all know the phrase make something of yourself.

It means to do well, to be successful.

If we make something of ourselves, it means we have proven our worth. We have a meaningful life. People depend on us. And those are all good things. It is good to be successful at what we love to do. It is great to have other people depend on us.

But I started to wonder if our idea of making something of ourselves is just not quite adequate.

Because Cheri and I believe that every life has value and meaning, every life, whether that person ever got the chance to be successful, enjoy applause or make something of himself. There are so many people who never get a chance to make something of themselves. Either they are never born, or they are born in a place or time or situation that prevents them from succeeding in the ways we think are important.

We tie so much of our self-image to what we do, what we make, what we provide people. We quantify our faith the same way we quantify our success and our worth, and that’s a pretty good way to burn out in life.

Really, when it comes to our value, our worth as human beings, it is not about what we do or that makes us. Instead, we are valuable and worthy because we have been made. 

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We have a Creator.

He has already made us.

We don’t need to make anything of ourselves. He has already done the making.

That’s a relief, isn’t it?

Everything takes practice, right?

It takes practice to learn how to ride a bike. We have to practice to learn how to play a musical instrument or a backyard sport. We had to practice in order to be able to recite our math facts, or eat an ice cream cone without wearing it.

Practically everything in life, we struggle and wrestle with because we are not born with a natural talent for it.

For some reason, though, faith has escaped that fundamental idea, that it takes practice. 

I think we assume that a bolt of spiritual lightning hits our brains and we then have faith. We believe. And we can be tested to see if we are true believers.

Maybe that was true when we were children. We believed what the adults told us.We believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Maybe most awesomely, we believed in ourselves. We believed that we were awesome at everything. There are no three year olds who have body image issues (compared to something like 90% of grown women). There are no three year olds who do not believe that they can “do it themselves.”

But the older we got, the harder everything else became. It was not enough to clumsily throw objects across the room. We had to sharpen and hone our bodies in order to throw accurately. And we could no longer take everything the adults said at face value. We had to learn how to discern important things…like sarcasm. And maybe the hardest of all, we were confronted by this contradiction that God seems to love us, but on the other hand we know what we are. It became harder and harder for us to believe in ourselves, believe we are lovable, acceptable or worthy. Belief in ourselves is like some reflex that we are born with, but lose as we grow up.

One of my favorite departed Christians, Madeline L’Engle wrote in A Wrinkle In Time that believing was like anything else. It takes practice. And I wonder how many times in my life I have avoided stretching and straining my “belief” muscles, either by exercising my cynicism, or just by taking things at face value and forgetting them.

believing

This week, I think I’m gonna stretch my belief muscles. I’m going to try to believe that I’m good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God has made me good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God finds me worthy.

Because if I can’t practice believing those things, then the rest is all up for grabs.