This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Afraid to think?

Recently, I've been doing some writing about the way we think about and use scripture. Some of that you will see here soon. And while I've been thinking about that, a bigger question  - about the way we think about a lot of stuff - has been going through my mind.


There is a little back story here. Several years ago, I was confronted by an angry dad who was upset because a book I was using for a class included some ideas that he found offensive. Well, he hadn't read the book, but it was on a list that he had seen of "dangerous" authors who were perverting the minds of Christians. The list included folks like Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning - real dangerous dudes. As we talked, well, as he yelled, I realized that this dad was afraid. He was afraid that we were teaching his daughter a different kind of Christianity. When I could get a word in, I asked him why he had sent his daughter to a Christian liberal arts college if he did not want her to learn how to think. I have never forgotten his answer:

"I don't want her to think. I want her to know!"

Wow! I had never thought of it that way before. 

I think that we are afraid to think because we are afraid to doubt.  We think that doubt will kill our relationship with Jesus. However, doubt is the beginning of faith, not the end. 

Remember several years ago, when some letters written by Mother Teresa were released. In some of them, she expressed her doubts. Some folks were upset, thinking in some way this took away from her amazing life of faith and witness. Not to me. To me, reading those letters, I felt closer to Mother Teresa, and she became more real, more human - and more a person of real faith.

You know, there are certain sins that are best dealt with by staying as far away as possible. Just don’t go near them. Don’t allow yourself the temptation. However, the sin of a bad idea is not the kind of sin you should avoid. The best way to deal with a bad idea is to think about it, examine it, talk about it. That’s why I’ve never understood folks who are afraid to read certain books, have certain conversations, and think about certain ideas. They are afraid that they will begin to doubt - that somehow, the only way God can rule in their life is if absolute certainty is maintained. But I think God is bigger than that. God is not afraid of my doubts, because God knows that when I leave the certainty of my box of answers, and let my doubts see the light of day, there is freedom, and that’s where faith lives.

I do think this has something very important to say to us about what we do with scripture, and I’ll write more on that later. But what do you think? I’d love to know. Let’s talk. Share your comments.

*** Thanks to Rachel Evans for helping me to think about some of this stuff. If you are not already a reader of Rachel’s blog, check her out at   www.rachelheldevans.com

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This morning I was waiting at an intersection to make a right turn. In the car to my left, waiting to make a left turn, was a young woman in a red sports car, having an animated conversation on her cell phone. At one point her car lurched forward, barely missing the gray Mazda in front of her. As the light changed to green for her to proceed, I noticed that across the intersection, preparing to make a right turn into the same lane as the young woman, was a school bus. Thinking to myself - no, I think I said it out loud, “This is not good,” I watched as the car and the bus moved forward toward the same space. 

Both the law and common sense dictate that the car should let the bus go first, but common sense had already left for the day when the woman decided to have her cell phone conversation - so I watched the red sports car cut off the bus. The bus driver slammed on her brakes, narrowly missing the car. I don’t know if the young woman in the red sports car knew what she had caused and what had been avoided, as she sped off for her day’s activities, cell phone in hand.

It seems that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking to myself, or saying out loud, “This is not good” as I watch people heading straight into bad situations that they could have seen if only they weren’t so distracted by less important things:
Drivers not paying full attention to what is going on around them
Parents not paying full attention to what is going on in the lives of
their kids
Husbands not paying full attention to what is going on in their marriages
Kids not paying full attention to what is going on in class
Couples not paying full attention to what is going on in the relationship

Like the joke about ADD, “Ooh, look, a shiny thing,”  many of us are too easily distracted. Many of us have difficulty staying focused. We think we can multitask, but research studies consistently show that even those who are confident in their ability to multitask don’t do it as well as they think. And when it comes to the most important things in life - our relationships - we have convinced ourselves that we don’t need to give them our undivided attention. We are wrong.

I have found, as I’m sure you have, that offering unsolicited advice and admonitions about such things tend not to be well received. When I say “Be careful, danger ahead,”  the response is often, “Mind your own business,” which, on its face, is not an unreasonable response, as I certainly have enough things in my life to keep me busy.  However, the nature of the church, when it is done right and well, not only encourages me to look at your life and you to look at mine, but it is a nonnegotiable essential of a healthy spiritual life. In other words, I don’t have a choice - your business IS my business.

We are missing some of the most important things in our life because we are easily distracted by the less important things. We tend to reject the help of others who may be able to offer wisdom to us from their experiences, and who may have a better perspective than we do. We remove ourselves from communities and commitments that encourage transparency and accountability, and we reject those behaviors and exercises (commonly known as the spiritual disciplines) that help develop our ability to perceive more clearly. 

This morning, as I made my way back to church, I found a police officer parked in our lot, along with several other cars. There had been an accident in front of our church. Seems someone was, you guessed it, talking on their cell phone.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Overselling Jesus

I think that sometimes we oversell.

I spent 23 years in Christian higher education. During that time I was regularly surprised by some of the complaints I heard from parents and students concerning their college experience. They complained about everything from the facilities to the food to the relationships (both not enough and too much) to the spiritual life to the academics to the cost. Especially the cost.

As I listened to their complaints, I realized that many of these concerns would not have been expressed if they were attending a public or private, secular school. While the reasons are more complex than what I am discussing here, I think one reason for their dissatisfaction is that we overpromised. Many students and parents thought the Christian college experience was going to be heaven on earth - hundreds of like-minded and like-hearted young people coming together to secure their faith and worldview in an environment combining the best of their adolescent experiences of teen camp, Christian concerts, youth group and retreats. All under the leadership of kindly, Godly professors and administrators who would care for them as if they were their own children or grandchildren. The end result would be a mature, spiritually passionate young adult with a degree that would guarantee a great job and, very likely, a Christian life partner. And the cost? Well, with that great job, there would be no problem paying off your loans.

Did any official college publication or representative make such explicit promises? Probably not, but they came close. I know, because I was one of those representatives.

Now, please understand - I do believe in Christian higher education. I believe that there is great benefit there, and I do believe that the education and environment offers many students a better place to receive a college education than can be received elsewhere. But it is not heaven on earth - nor should it be. It should be the most difficult, challenging environment of the students’ young life, with just enough support to help them succeed. But I think those trying to market Christian higher education market it in ways that indicate a lack of respect for the prospective students and their families. They don’t believe that folks can understand the nuanced benefits, so instead they sell emotion and a dream. And I think it often leads to a dissatisfied student/parent/consumer. And the truth is - the financial cost is too high.

But Christian higher education is not the only thing we oversell.

We have oversold the church, promising things we cannot guarantee when it comes to the quality of people and relationships that folks will find in our fellowship. We cannot guarantee that your marriage, family, kids, and life will be better if only you join us. My denomination once advertised “Our church can be your home.” Well, welcome to our dysfunctional family - if only because once I walk in the door, the church is not perfect anymore. The end result for many is church shopping, looking for the perfect faith community.

And some just walk away.

We have oversold sanctification. Once, a long time ago, someone called what happens in your life when you allow the Holy Spirit to transform you “sinless perfection.” And ever since the church has been backpedaling, redefining the terms and attempting to say that “well, we really didn’t mean that,” like the small print on the bottom of so many ads.

“Your mileage may vary.”

The result has been, for so many, that the term “sanctification” lost all meaning. When we oversold, and folks realized that what had been promised was not the reality, they then didn’t seek or realize the actual blessings of the experience. Like Christian higher education, with sanctification if we promised perfection and the reality wasn’t perfect, then the perception is that it isn’t worth anything at all. And that’s a shame, because both sanctification and Christian colleges are wonderful things - just not perfect.

I also think we’ve oversold Jesus.

In the hyperbole of our preaching, our songs, and our testimonies, we have led folks to believe that once they have a relationship with Christ everything in life will change, everything in life will be wonderful, and all of the dark clouds of life will part to reveal the glory of God. We will be happy, blessed, full of joy all the time, and our temporal concerns and worries, our problems and failures, will all melt away in the midst of the beauty of the Lord. Here is the quick, sure answer to every one of your problems.

Not for everyone, and certainly not all the time for anyone.

A few weeks ago, I heard a testimony from a believer who shared about the impact that one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, had on him, in giving him permission to admit his spiritual journey. “I know for some people their salvation is about complete joy in the Lord. But it was not that way for me. For me, the cross of Christ was like a small piece of wood, floating on an ocean of despair. I could survive as long as I held on to that small piece of wood. And holding on to it, I found that there were other hands holding onto to it who, like me, were holding on for dear life.”

When we oversell a relationship with Jesus, promising a happiness and perfection that is not the reality, we leave in our wake people who have found the life of faith as not all that perfect. Unfortunately, they then believe that something is wrong with them - something is wrong with their experience or their level of commitment. So, instead of trusting, they just keep trying harder, and continue their frustration that the reality is not as good as the promise.

Or, they just walk away.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whom Do You Hate?

Eight years ago I sat with a group of men in a crowded diner for our regular Tuesday morning breakfast gathering. I was new to the group, having become their pastor only a few months earlier. One of the older men, a rough person in his seventies who was known for his brusque comments, made a racist joke. Immediately, everyone at the table looked at me. I responded with what I considered a mild, pastoral rebuke, and we went on with our meal.

Later, another man from the group pulled me aside. “You will have to forgive John,” he said, “He was in the Pacific during WWII, and he has never been able to forgive the Japanese. He hates them, and he really does not like that you drive a Honda. This was his way of letting you know that.”

John and I never really got along, although we learned to work together and his frustration with me evolved to a grudging tolerance. Several years ago John died.

It was easy for me to judge John’s hatred for the Japanese as indicative of a weakness in his spiritual life. It was also easy for me to look down on him for it. After all, I’m not like that. I don’t hate any group of people, and I certainly don’t go around making racist jokes and slurs.

However, the Holy Spirit has a way of showing me things about myself that I have worked hard to hide. John’s hatred for a race of people was due to his life-changing experience during a horrible war. In my own heart, I have allowed my experience with some individuals to grow from anger into bitterness - the raw material of hatred. There is the youth pastor who molested my friend, the boss who made my life miserable, and, I am ashamed to admit, too many others.

It is easy for me to answer the question, “Do you hate?” with a glib, “No, of course not.” But if I am faced with the question, “Whom do you hate?” my mind, under the guidance of the Spirit, does not so easily cover up my failure to allow God’s perfect love to control all of my relationships. “Yes,” I am forced to honestly confess, “I hate.”

In this confession, it is once again revealed that there is still work to be done in my life, and I am still in need of forgiveness by a God who is ready to forgive – more ready to forgive me than I was ready to forgive John.

So, if I may be so bold as to ask, whom do you hate?