Tag Archives: faith

The Problem With Trusting God

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20130916_trustinggod

I’m an ordained elder.  For 13 years I was a pastor.  And if you test my spiritual gifts, one of them will be faith.  So it might surprise you to learn that trusting God is something I struggle with.

Perhaps the seeds of this struggle were planted when I was 11 and my father died from brain cancer.  I grew up going to church and when my father was diagnosed with cancer it was unreal.  Everyone I knew was praying for him to recover.  Yet, despite all the prayers and Bible verses that were quoted, my family watched him slip away from us.  I struggled, I grieved, but somehow my faith remained intact.

Then, the summer after my junior year in college I went on my first mission trip.  I went with an amazing group called YIM that did a fantastic job preparing us for the world beyond our borders.  During that summer I was confronted with the reality of the third world.  I learned about people who lived on less than a dollar a day.  I learned of people who were literally starving to death.  I heard the stories of those who were sick and dying from illnesses that could be prevented by a simple mosquito net or treated with drugs that were readily available to all Americans.

As an American Christian I had always been taught that God provides for his children.  I had memorized verses about God knowing exactly what we need and promising to care for us.  I had studied the passages about not worrying about what we would eat or drink.  I shook my head in agreement when I heard someone say “God always provides, right on time,” or “God didn’t bring you this far to leave you now.”  I accepted these things as truth.

But how could I look in the face of brave Christian brothers and sisters who were facing death and recite those familiar platitudes?  How could I say “don’t worry” to the mother who had no food to feed her children?  Or tell the young man dying for lack of basic medicines, “trust God, he will provide.”?  Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to “just trust God.”

If God’s children were dying of hunger or sick and suffering in third world countries, what did that mean for me and my struggles?  Surely it wasn’t as easy as just “trusting God to provide.”  I’m not saying that I don’t believe God provides.  Or that I don’t believe God is good, loving, and cares about us and our problems.  I just believe that the way God works is more complicated than easy platitudes allow for.

Over the years I have found myself in many difficult circumstances which have tested my ability to hold onto my faith and trust God.  I have cried with friends who have lost loved ones.  I have faced incredibly difficult challenges in the ministry.  I have struggled as my son fights to overcome the trauma he experienced before he entered foster care.  I have faced extreme financial hardships.  And I have faced the loss of my daughter.  Life has not always been easy, and often I find myself struggling with the question of how to trust God in the midst of suffering.

Ultimately, I believe that God provides through us—the church.  When someone is praying for food to feed their children, clean water, or medicine for their loved one in a third world country, we as a church are designed to be the answer to that prayer.  When a mother admits she can’t buy milk, a man is homeless and eating from a trash can, a refugee is seeking shelter, or a friend asks us to pray for them, we are created to help. It’s not enough to tell those who are struggling to rely on God, or not to worry.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

So the next time you’re tempted to tell someone to “just trust God,” consider whether or not God may be trusting you to be the answer to their prayer.

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Shame, Guilt, and How I Escaped

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Today I’ve read not one, but two, of my friends blogs that wrestled with the weighty issues of shame and guilt.

Karissa, who I mentioned a couple of days ago, wrote about how growing up her faith often came with an ugly price tag called guilt.  She ended up leaving the church she grew up in search of a faith that freed her from that guilt.

And Jermaine wrote about how shame gets passed around like candy sometimes, claiming that we’re speaking the truth in love, when really all we’re doing is passing out shame and judgement.

Life in the church can be harsh sometimes.  We’re not perfect people, and sometimes in our quest to better ourselves we end up filling others with shame, guilt, and a whole bunch of other crap that “ain’t nobody got time for.”  It’s not healthy.  I don’t think we even intend to do it sometimes.  But it happens.

I grew up in the same church background as my friend Karissa.  Like her, I went to a small, conservative Nazarene church.  We went to the same college, where we were best friends and roommates.  And many of her experiences resonate with me.  I can remember growing up and praying every five minutes or so for my salvation.  I was sure I’d done something terribly evil in the past five minutes and needed redemption.  (This coming from the girl who never smoked, drank, or tried drugs, and considered it complete failure if I got less than an A in class.)  As a kid I was always striving for perfection.  Honestly, that part of me hasn’t changed much.  But I know that a large part of that is my firstborn perfectionist tendencies, not my faith.

I do want to be the best I can at whatever I’m doing.  I want to be living a life that demonstrates love, grace, and compassion.  I want to have an intimate relationship with God.  But if those thinks were once driven by a sense of guilt, it’s been a long time since that held true.  Somewhere along the way I dropped that shame and guilt like a dirty rag, and I moved on.

How did that happen?  I’m not sure I could pinpoint some moment in time or new understanding that changed my world.  I think it just gradually grew up into my faith, as I planted deep roots and learned the meaning of a tree’s flexibility.

There is a part of that growth that was planted by my mother.  There were a lot of times my mom tried to push her ideas on me.  Like when she told me I had no other choice than to attend college at her alma mater.  And being the stubborn, strong-willed child that I was/am, I then proceeded to do the exact opposite of what she told me to do.  But then there were these gems of moments when she challenged me to think for myself.  And those moments were probably her best parenting choices ever.

I was 12 when I first had the opportunity to audition for show choir (that’s a glee club for all you non-midwesterners).  I wanted desperately to be a part of it.  But I was a member of a Nazarene church and it was against the rules.  I asked my mom what to do.  And instead of telling me, she taught me to think for myself.  She told me to go read the Bible.  To pray.  To ask God, and then listen.  And I did.  And guess what?  What I heard from God was not what I heard from my church’s rule book.  Mind blowing experience for a 12 year old.  But it was probably one of the most important faith lessons of my childhood.

In the end I auditioned and so began a long relationship with all things music, theatre, and dance related.  And it didn’t break my faith in the church or the people who came up with those rules.  I simply accepted that we could disagree sometimes and it would be ok.  And I discovered a relationship that was about more than a rule book.  More than getting things right and being perfect.  I discovered a God who was so much more than a church who sometimes weighs us down with guilt and shame–but a God who still loved that church and worked through her.

And that’s exactly the kind of God I needed.  A God who is so far above me and my failings–but still loves me and works through me.

So here’s to all my friends out there who are struggling with guilt and shame that’s been piled on you by some well-meaning Christian.  May you find release from those chains.  Freedom from a pain that doesn’t come from God.  And the mystery of a love that surrounds you even in your darkest place.

Child’s Play

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simple joy of a child
revealed in smiling laughter
on a tiny face
sparkling eyes—
beauty, innocence, naiveté
cartwheels,
somersaults,
play-doh,
dandelions,
finger paints,
pig-tails
flying in the wind,
spinning round and round
merry-go-round
can fall down — can’t stay down
childlike trust,
faith too strong
stars in a midnight blue sky
shine, sparkle, shimmer
trying not to fade into the conformity
of an adult world

Are you really a Christian?

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Have you ever noticed what a wide variety of factors we consider when determining if a person is “really a Christian?”  I’ve been in professional ministry for about a decade and I could almost write another 613 laws based on some of the stipulations I’ve heard.

Are you really a Christian?  I’ve been told you’re not a *real* Christian if . . .

  • you’re a Democrat
  • you’re a Republican
  • you don’t home school your kids
  • you home school your kids
  • you’re a working mom
  • you’re a stay-at-home dad
  • you believe in gay marriage
  • you don’t believe in gay marriage
  • you believe in a pre-millenial rapture
  • you believe in a post-millenial rapture
  • you work on Sundays
  • you’re business is open on Sundays
  • you drink alcohol
  • you never drink alcohol
  • you can’t remember the date you choose to follow Jesus
  • you don’t picket outside family planning clinics
  • you do picket outside family planning clinics

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  We all have this picture (whether we want to admit it or not) of what a Christian looks like, acts like, and believes.  And most of the time our picture addresses things that go far beyond the questions of  “Do you believe in Jesus?  Did you seek forgiveness for your sins?  Do you choose to follow God?”

And all that has me wondering . . . when people who don’t consider themselves Christians look at us, what factors do they use to determine who is and who isn’t Christian?  Are they asking us questions about our belief systems or are they judging based on who “goes to church?”  Are they evaluating our behaviors and moral boundaries or are they examining our political and social beliefs?

Or, what if Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he said: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Try to forget that you’ve ever heard that verse before.  Try to forget the watered-down definition of love that our culture has come to believe in.  Try to forget everything you’ve come to assume is what defines you as a Christian.  What if the only way for people to know that we have anything to do with the God-man we call Jesus Christ, is if we love each other?  With the kind of radical, deep-running, lay-down-your-life kind of love that I believe Jesus was talking about.

If that was the measuring stick of our Christianity, what would people on the “outside” think of us on the “inside?”  Would they see us as Christians when they looked in our churches, our homes, our offices, and our ministries?  Would they see a radical love between all those people gathered in an auditorium on Sunday morning?  Would they see a deep love if they visited our church board meetings?  Would they see an edifying  love if they walked through our offices?  Would they see a self-sacrificing love if they hung out with us in our family room?

What if, radical as this may be, what if God looked at us the same way?  What if he was a lot less concerned with our political party or our views on end-times than he was with how we loved each other.  It’s a freeing proposition–that I don’t have to end up on the right side of the debate or have all the correct answers.  But it’s also a terrifying thought.  Because loving people–the way I believe God wants us to love people–isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy to love the person you can’t agree with.  It’s even harder to love the person who hurt you.  And we do that in the church . . . a lot.  We hurt people.  We don’t mean to, but we do.  We’re not God, we’re messed up humans and we make mistakes.

The question is, is it even possible to live with that kind of radical love?  To love the family member who broke your heart?  To love the person on the other side of the aisle who betrayed your trust?  To love the congregation down the street whose beliefs don’t line up with yours?  To love the coworker who drives you crazy?  Is that kind of love really possible here on earth?  Is that thing we call the “Kingdom of Heaven” ever going to be realized in this world, or is it only possible when Jesus returns?

I’ll tell you what a wise man once told me:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pipe dream.” 

Maybe we’ll never perfect that Kingdom reality in this lifetime.  Maybe our love will never be that complete.  But I’d love to see us try.