Tag Archives: God

The Problem With Trusting God

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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.

Were Adam and Eve cave people?

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Were Adam and Eve cave people?

That’s what I was asked by a kid at church recently.  Let me back up.  At Kid Connect we believe it’s important to involve kids in the learning process, so we encourage them to ask questions.  We don’t want to be that teacher calling out the standard fill-in-the-blank questions looking for “Sunday School answers.”  So, throughout the worship experience kids have the opportunity to write down questions.  We take those questions and the inspiration leaders (our large group teachers) address those questions in the teach time.  As you can imagine we get some awesome questions.  Teachers have three options when they read a question–they can answer it themselves, challenge the kids to come up with the answer, or they can put it in the “Expert Box” for me to answer later.

As you can imagine, I get some very interesting questions.  And so it was that last weekend during one of our venues our inspiration leader pulled out a question and read “Were Adam and Eve cave people?”  There was a moment of awkward silence.  Then she looked up, smirked at me, and laughed “Well, that one’s going in the Expert Box.”

Thanks a lot.

Here are some of the other questions I’ve been asked:

  • Did God know Santa?
  • How do we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, when we’ve never met him?
  • How was the “big bang” made?
  • How many people die from hunger in 24 hours?
  • Why did the women not get treated fairly?
  • Why are people mean?
  • Can I beat up people?
  • What does God look like?
  • How do I get people to stop hitting me?
  • How does hope spread?
  • Can God stop school?
  • Why didn’t God just wipe out sin instead of making Jesus die?
  • Why are some churches so big and fancy and some don’t have a playground?
  • What do you do when there are a lot of people annoying you?
  • When you get baptized is it like falling back into Jesus’ arms?
  • How do you tell someone you are afraid of about Jesus?
  • Why do people think it’s all about money?
  • Why do people bully?
  • Does God have a Holy Spirit in himself

Wow!  Right?

So, it’s time for you to get involved!   What questions have kids asked you?  Or, what questions do you have that you’ve been too afraid to ask?  And how would you answer these questions?

My Love

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I tell them of you, my love
of your beauty which haunts my dreams
of your warmth which awakens my possibilities

I try to describe how I first fell in love with you
how we met in a crowded city
filled with a thousand new memories
and how, in a moment,
you touched me
and your fingerprints have forever been
tattooed on my heart

words tumble from my lips
searching to describe your children
stunning, intelligent, loving, hopeful
with those deep, brown eyes which hypnotize me

I tell them how I am coming to live with you
packing everything I can fit in a few battered suitcases
flying halfway around this spinning planet
to share life with you
because I love you
because I love the God who led me to you

I speak all of this, my love
with all the joy and compassion and love in my heart

And often they smile at me
wish me well
but secretly they wonder

how I could love you
how I could hold you dear
and wish for a life with you

And it pains me to tell you this,
but too often their minds have been clouded by perceptions they have been given of you
by so many others who have not known you as I have
they have learned to mistrust you
to hold you at arms length
sometimes to hate you,
but always to fear you

And they fear for me—
for my life with you
they are afraid that instead of cherishing me
you will hurt me
leave me lonely or in pain

But do not fear, my love
still I will come to you.
For once, many years ago
I feared you too
but some divinely ordained plan took me to you
and once I had met you,
looked into your heart
I fell hopelessly in love
and I learned how wrong all my prejudices had been
and I hold out hope for the day when they too
will share my love

 

The Hourglass

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My job is simple
I wake up and grab a spoon
after downing my shredded wheat
I wipe the spoon clean
and step outside
in front of me is an expanse of sand
I bend down
dig in my spoon
and gather it up
moving it to the giant
hourglass
behind my house
one teaspoon at a time
I move an ocean of sand
months on end
I pour into the hourglass
Until one day it is full
and the god I have constructed
knocks it over
and points to a new timepiece
and I grab my spoon
and begin my journey once more

But at night when the rain clinks on my roof
I look out and I wonder
What if this dry, grainy mission
was my own invention?
And I dream of a God who calls me to
Play with him on the beach
Instead of hauling sand all day
And I wonder if there’s more truth
in my dream than my reality.

 

Return

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Please.
Tell me there’s more than this,
that there’s hope for me.

I’ve been poured in concrete,
no matter how I struggle
I’m still in the same place
longing for you
waiting to see your face again
but the distance is dissolving my memory of you,
and I find myself trapped in this endless moment
clinging to wisps of smoke from your fire
longing for the passion which once filled me

I’m holding onto trinkets
symbols which are cheapened without your presence
and I feel cheap
hoping like this—
waiting for you,
knowing I’m powerless to
conjure up your love
like a witch doctor who has found out the utter
uselessness of my spells,
yet still reciting them
longing for the magic to
return.

Wide Open Spaces

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wide open spaces
in my soul

walking through an
aisle of trees
on a path of stone
you could catch a
glimpse of my naked soul

laying my Isaac on the altar
of sacrifice
weeping for my
hopes, dreams, plans
I was giving to God.
and then feeling so
empty
of me
filling the
wide open spaces
in my soul
with Him.

and then He gave me
my Isaac back

why is it that
after my mountain-top experience
I keep falling back into the
slimy ditches of this life
cluttered by all these
pieces of me
I’d rather lose

how do I get back to
Yahweh
His plan
my desire
wide open spaces in my soul