Faith

(Be warned this is going to be very stream of conscious.)

What is faith? The standard Bible answer is Hebrews 11, and specifically the first verse:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

But I got to wondering after my comment if that really sums it up. Lots of people think faith is when you put aside logic and science and just accept something you intellectually doubt or don’t believe.

I don’t think that is is.

As an aside I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about post-modernism and Christianity and that definition of faith is very modern.

I also used to think faith was that extra little bit when you took all the arguments and saw they all pointed to a God, but you could still doubt it. You took on faith the last little bit.

Don’t think that’s it either.

Today I wondered if God asks us in the Bible to have faith he exists. That will require more research, but normally the kind of faith God asks for is to believe he will do what he promised. This is also more the way we use the word when dealing with people. We say “I have faith in George Bush.” We aren’t saying I believe George Bush exists, we know that because of our experience. We are saying I believe George Bush will do what he said he would, or that we believe he will do the right thing.

And God says that faith is a gift from him “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no-one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

So if we don’t have to have faith for God’s existence, how do we know he is there? As I said to Connie, we do it based on experience.

In intellectual honesty, we should be willing to study and explore the spiritual life with all the rigor and determination we would give any field of research.

– A Celebration of Disciple, pg 3, by Richard Foster.

When I said faith was a struggle I mean it is something that never really becomes complete. You will spend the rest of you life on this earth trying to really trust that God will do the various things he promised. And pushing the envelope, trying new things you didn’t believe possible in the past, is the struggle, the journey of faith.

Converting people

I once read in a book on evangelism – generally taken to be the act of trying to convert someone – that Christians and non-Christians have one thing in common when they talk about evangelism. It makes them both uncomfortable. And boy is that true.

But you know it is not my job as a Christian to get people to come to Jesus (little bit of church speak there). I am commanded to preach the gospel and make disciples. But I don’t convert anyone. God is the one working on people’s heart.

I’m reading Searching for God Knows What right now and the author says being converted is a very much like falling in love. And you don’t talk someone into loving you. You also don’t write theses about why you should to shouldn’t love someone. You write poetry about them.

One of the biggest characteristics of falling in love is it seems to be out of your control. When I met my wife I fell for her pretty fast. We were married in just a few months. The feelings were there and strong, the real question was should spend the rest of our lives together. That was the search for faith in the character of the other person.

I also believe it is the God of love behind human love. That doesn’t mean everyone you feel love for is God’s choice for you. We also need to understand that love is as much an action as a feeling.

I need to go show a little love to my computer addicted son see if I can get his computer working. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this subject soon.

Written while listening to Whom Should I Fear by Darrell Evans from album You Are I Am
Written while listening to Lay It Down by Jennifer Knapp from album Lay It Down
Written while listening to I’m trading my sorrows by Darrel Evans from album Freedom
Written while listening to Ready for the Storm by Rich Mullins from album Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth
Written while listening to You Are My Portion by Darrell Evans from album Freedom
Written while listening to Here I Am To Worship by Sonicflood from album Cry Holy

Commenting for Jesus

Mrs. du Toit has an entry about why she is an atheist. I found it fascinating because she basically says she wants to believe, but can’t. She sees the benefit of being religious, but can’t believe there is a God – take a leap of faith – any more than she can believe in a Easter Bunny.

I wrote a long comment that I’m going to quote here.

Connie:

Interesting post. It is always a pleasure to get your unique perspective on things.

I guess I don’t see faith as a leap, but rather a struggle, and not in a big is-there-a-god kind of way. In my experience when I seek G-d he provides me experience and evidence that he is there. The struggle is in continuing to hope when things look hopeless and trust that He is there to help me through like he has in the past.

Jesus said that if you follow his commands you will know that what he says is true. This is experiential. Seems to me when you look at the life of people and you find they are happy, full-filled or self-actualized you are seeing that what they believe is true. It works.

My relationship to the Trinity is not so much about me and what I do, or believe. It is about them seeking me. Father-God is seeking us, pursuing us, like a obsessive lover.

I don’t know if any of this is making sense. Part of the problem is I’m talking as much about how I know something is true and real. For me that is looking at the results. To me its isn’t a logical set of arguments that make something true. I’ve heard too many logical arguments that prove crazy stuff like the Illuminati. If I want to know if what Jesus said is true, I have to try it and see the results. If I want to know if He is answering prayer, I don’t try to convince myself prayer will work, I try it and see. I pray – talking as if I was talking to a loving father – and see what happens.

I’m also not talking about testing Deism. I’m talking about testing Jesus of the Christian Bible. So if I want to learn how I should pray I look there. If I want to test how I should live I can look at the teaching and example of Jesus.

I like the title of your post because I rarely comment on religion. Most people are just interesting in arguing as an intellectual exercise. But you seemed to just be expressing your belief.

Ron

I’ve been thinking a lot on this post. Firstly it is a little strange I even commented. I’m almost phobic about commenting on talking about or posting online about religion. It is a very contentious subject, fraught with conflict and I’m a big time conflict avoider. I like to say I’m perfectly willing to talk to people about my faith and theirs, but only if it is out of a genuine desire to seek the truth, and not just to argue. On the internet, the land of more heat than light, most people just want to argue. But it didn’t seem to me Connie just wanted to argue.

And I like Kim and Connie. I enjoy reading their stuff. I think of her as being a lot like my wife. An intelligent, accomplished, conservative woman, who home-schools and is well read.

As I mentioned recently I’m going through something of a spiritual reawakening. And I think the next post I’m going to do is to fisk my own comment. There is just more I want to say.

Written while listening to New Song Arisin’ by Darrell Evans from album You Are I Am
Written while listening to Sweeter by Lakewood Church Praise Team from album iWorship Next
Written while listening to One True Love by Rich Mullins from album Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth
Written while listening to Usher Me Down by Jennifer Knapp from album Lay It Down
Written while listening to . . . and I Love You by Rich Mullins from album Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth

Why did Jesus have to die?

In his book, Moral Lessons, Richard Selzer MD, writes: “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

– via The Ragamuffin Gospel, chapter 6

Jesus had to die to conform God’s lips to our twisted life. We can only understand the quality of love in terms of sacrifice. So God set it up that he could make a sacrifice so big we’d understand the enormous quality of his love for us.

In the title, I’m not referring to the standard question of “Why did Jesus have to die?” that most Christian are answering. This question with the answer so our sins would be forgiven. Or to atone for our sins.

I’m referring to the question of why did God set it up this way. Why did God make the rules so that Jesus’ death would some how make up for our sins. Couldn’t he have found a way other than sacrifice and blood?

I think the answer is yes. But in so doing he would have had to change how we experience love.

I’m not sure our understanding of love only being in terms of sacrifice is a reflection of God’s love or our fallen nature. But God’s desire to show us just how much he loves us is why Jesus had to die. And the more horrible the death the greater the quality of his love in our eyes.

Jesus couldn’t be an elder.

Last night I was up late. I actually went to bed early, but woke up again with this crazy idea I needed to write down all the churches I’ve been to since I was married.

So I got up and did it. Then when I tried to go back to sleep I had three insights into God stuff. Unfortunately I didn’t write them down and only remember 2.

One was that Jesus wouldn’t qualify to be an elder at my church. He’s not married and that’s on the list. He has no kids and that’s on the list. But finally his answer to this question – that all the elder candidates had to answer – would disqualify him in way too many people’s eyes.

Do you or your wife have any personal habits/traits that could harm your influence as an elder? In other words do you do anything that is going to shock and upset people.

How about hanging around with prostitutes?(Luke 7:37) Or people that are part of fringe groups bent on overthrowing the government?(Simon the Zealot) How about providing wine at a party to people who were already drunk?(John 2:10)

I think if I ever have to answer such a silly question I’m going to say. “Well, one of my favorite things to do is go to Hooters drink beer and eat chicken wings. And I think the most beautiful thing God created are women and I get great joy out of looking at them.”

As an aside for the record, so you won’t think less of me, I think Hooters has mediocre wings.

I understand why that question is there. But the scandal of Jesus’ conduct during his time on Earth would insure he’d need to tell people things they wouldn’t want to hear on that question.

The other insight is in the next post. Why did Jesus have to die?

God loves you

God really, really loves you. He loves you a lot. God’s love is greater than anything we can imagine. You can barely compare it to the strongest love we have here on earth.

God loves you when you are bad. God loves you whether you love him or even believe in him. You can be an atheist and he still loves you. You can be a prostitute and he still loves you. You can be a middle ages fat guy and he still loves you.

I don’t love you enough to sacrifice one of my children just to show you how much I care. Guess I don’t really care about you that much. But God does.

This love is really the core of the Gospel, or good news. We Christians spend way to much time worrying about changing behavior. We should spend more time worrying that people don’t understand – really deep down understand – that God loves them.

“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

That’s one of the things I learned while reading Ragamuffin Gospel.

My church history: The Married Years

This post was written between 11 PM on Oct 26th and 2:30 AM on the 27th.

I met my wife that last few weeks I was in college. I don’t even remember the church I went to at the time, but I’m sure it was a church of Christ. We got married at the Kingwood Church of Christ, even though at the time neither of us went there. It was where I’d grown up and near where her parents lived.

When we first got married we lived in Lafayette Indiana while my wife finished her PhD at Purdue and went to Elmwood Church of Christ. We actually had a second wedding at this church. We were very close to the youth minister and his wife there.

After awhile there we moved back to Abilene Texas and my wife started teaching at ACU. The first church we went to was the Hillcrest Church of Christ. We had to go to a C of C because of the her job.

During one summer we went back to Lafayette so she could finish her class work at Purdue. It was during this summer that we first started going to non-CofCs. We went the Lafayette First Assembly of God. We learned a lot of things at this church. The two big ones were with instrumental music you can sing as loud as you want because no one is really going to hear you anyway, and a whole different theology of speaking in tongues.

If you look at this church in terms not of what we learned, but in terms of what we did, the reason we were there was so one of my co-workers could come back to God and church. She had grown up Assembly of God and had abandoned church to do something she knew was wrong. She was a ragamuffin. We came to be friends and we invited her to church that summer and she came, found the forgiveness that is always waiting for us, and was reunited with the God that was pursuing her.

When the summer was over we went back to Abilene and I started studying to be a church planter. We ended up at a tiny, tiny little church of Christ on the south side of town. The Oakridge church of Christ was the church were our first child was born. I learned a lot about being a new parent when I was there. And a lot about being in a very small church.

While I was studying to be a church planters a group of people from ACU decided to start a new kind of church based on the models we were studying. One of its purposes was to be a training ground for those of us in the domestic missions program. Eventually we managed to get ourselves invited to be a part of this church. It was called the Abilene Mission Church.

I won’t go into detail, but this period of time was filled with pain. We had more interpersonal strife while being a part of this church than any other church. We also learned a lot about technically how church should be done. Our second child was born here amid much drama. We had some very dear friends in this period. No church of Christ we’ve ever gone to since was more focused on reaching the lost.

Unfortunately that church imploded after we left and isn’t around any more.

I never finished the Domestic Mission degree, but I got a degree in Computer Science and decided to pursue that career. We moved to Durham North Carolina and basically left the churches of Christ.

AMC was a cell church and I had studied cell churches and really wanted to be part of one. But I was burned out on being part of small churches and cell churches, which end up taking a huge amount of time and effort on the part of the leaders, which we were.

When we first got to Durham we looked for a cell church and found one called Dayspring Fellowship. We visited the church on a Sunday – they were meeting a middle school – and a small group. But we didn’t go there, because we were burned out and didn’t want to have to do the work of being in a small church.

So we ended up going to the Triangle Christian Fellowship (this may be them, but they weren’t a Vineyard at the time). We went there for a year. Good worship service, but at the end of a year we knew no one at that church. And they failed the heart for the lost test. During this time I had a co-worker who was looking to come back to God. She’d been a part of the Boston Church of Christ movement and had left it. Another Ragamuffin willing to come back if she could find the right body. We invited her to church and went around and asked people please make sure they talked to her. No one did. So we went looking for another church.

And we went back to Dayspring. We’d spent a year rejuvenating and were less afraid of a small church. But what really hooked us was the compassion of the members. The morning we visited a couple who were to become our good good friends was talking to us and we mentioned we hadn’t been able to find a baby sitter, and had therefore not been out on our own in over a year. They immediately offered to watch our boys. We took them up on it and never even visited another church.

I learned a lot about cell church at Dayspring. But it really wasn’t a working cell church. I think the big thing I came out with was that you have to have people who can really do outreach in order to actually grow and divide cells and that isn’t easy to find.

I took a job in Austin and we decided to go back to the Church of Christ. We went to Westover Hills church of Christ. We went there over a year and at the end of that time I knew no one. I was ready to find another church. The Mrs was not, but I was pig headed and did it anyway. I went back to visit ACU and AMC and the people there told me that all the people who move to Austin from AMC go to Hope Chapel. It turns out there was really only one couple and they had moved on since then, but I went to Hope anyway. This was God’s weird way of working.

I loved Hope Chapel. It was the best church we ever went to. We learned how to worship there. How to dance and praise. They had a deep love for the lost and I did more outreach to coworkers there than anywhere. Learned a lot about prayer and was introduced to Prayerwalking.

That sure seems a very short paragraph for my favorite church.

Sitting here writing this I wonder again as I have a number of times, why I left and moved to Kingwood. I was very sure at the time it was God’s work. I got the idea into my head I wanted to do it and an amazing opportunity to make the move came.

Kingwood turned out to be an ecclesiastical wasteland. There was never any serious thought to attending my old home church. Just too much baggage and bad feelings. We visited a number of churches over the years, three that we really attended. Funny thing is I can’t really remember what order we went to them.

One was the Kingwood Vineyard church. It was a small church and we never really got plugged in. Learned a new way of worship. I like to say among the praise oriented churches, when worship is over you either feel like you just did an aerobic workout, or you are so relaxed you could go to sleep. The vineyard is the latter. But you really don’t feel sleepy, like in a traditional worship service, just relaxed.

After a while going there we didn’t know anyone and wanted a big church where we didn’t have to do anything. And really I didn’t want to go to church at all. It felt like a waste of time. I wasn’t getting anything out of it (whatever that means).

If you want big and well organized go Baptist. These people have made big and organized an art form. We visited Woodridge Baptist filled out the visitor card and had someone come visit us within 24 hours bringing bread. As a student of church growth I knew that if you do this to visitors over half will start coming to your church. But this is the first church that ever did it. We went here for awhile, I don’t remember how long. But I was in a very dry place and the only reason I went on Sunday morning was there were a lot of good looking women to look at. How’s that for spiritual.

I guess at some point I decided we should go to a church for spiritual reasons. Or maybe it was just time to change again. Anyway we moved to the Family Life Church. (Which didn’t have a web site then and doesn’t have one now.) FLC had the kind of worship service we were more used to. And we got somewhat evolved. But we got real tired of the mini-sermon on money every Sunday.

We visited Lakewood Church and the Mrs and I really liked the worship service. I like the preaching too, which was a first. But the kids hated it. We went to pick them up after service and one was in tears. Now kids get upset about stuff and as a parent you know just because your kid is crying doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. But when you leave your kid in a class at church and he is crying you expect to find an adult with them trying to comfort them. Wasn’t happening at Lakewood. So Lakewood was out.

During my current spiritual reawakening I realized the Mrs and I could go to Lakewood on Saturday night for the fun of it. We could get our praise fix. The boys could go and stay with us, or we could get a babysitter and have a date.

Which brings us to our current church. So there is no good church in Kingwood. Not going to find a church by looking for one you connect with spiritually, so pick one where you’ve got friends. My best friend from high school and college goes to Kingwood Church of Christ. So we went there. The boys love it because they love his kids, and the Mrs and I can get along because we under stand the culture and the boys are happy.

The church is in the middle of elder selection. If you aren’t church of Christ this means nothing to you. If you are, then you know its painful. Part of the process was to put all the prospective elders up there and ask them questions. The questions were asked by the ministers and I was ready to leave pretty quick. At one point I realized the reason was because I had a burning desire in my heart that none of the questions or answers were addressing. I was saying “Please, please, please, give me a reason to want to come to this church on Sunday morning.”

I know this was actually the Spirit’s move. I know this because I wanted to cry when I heard it, and that’s a sure sign of the presence of Holy Spirit to me. And my whole outlook on life has changed since Sunday.

I think God took that plea and accepted that is was really to him and not the new elders. And he is trying to give me and answer.

Now hopefully he’ll let me go back to sleep.

Physical sleep, not spiritual.

Just did a count. 13 churches we actually attended, not counting the ones we just visited.

Dream

Don’t normally remember my dreams and I’m pretty sure I’ve never blogged one, but last night was an interesting one.

There was some dream before this where I was defending some woman from her psycho ex-boyfriend. It involved me pulling Walt a lot. But that’s not the dream that woke me up this morning.

My office at work is getting ready to move in a month or so. My dream had us moving into a multi story old building. My two office mates and I had this weirdly shaped room and I spent a lot of time arranging my part of it which involved an entire bedroom set. The other guy’s part of the office looked out the windows, but mine had a bed in it. I remember wall outlets and ethernet plugs being an important variable to placement of furniture.

Then I was a little kid and I was exploring the rest of the floor. Across the hall was this room that looked like a dog kennel, with lots of chain-link fenced pens. As I walked down the aisle out of the corner of my eye I would see movement, and I knew if I looked I would see something horrible. I knew this had been an asylum. The horrible Victorian or Eastern European kind of asylum. But worse. People with their bones showing through flayed flesh. Parts of human beings dragging around cells. Skeletons in heaps.

But in true horror movie fashion, when ever someone else would come into the room, it would be an empty dog kennel. I asked why we had a dog kennel, but no one would answer. (We keep cats at work, though you can bring in your dog).

So I figured the place was haunted. But you see I don’t believe in ghosts. I do believe in supernatural beings, both good and bad. So the thoughts in my mind were that the place was demon possessed. When the child me was left alone I discovered rooms full of strange demons, and I would turn into a full grown doctor who would command these demons and bring them to the kennels of the insane for some nefarious experiments. There was a balcony at the end of the cells and if you walked out there you say the panoply of Hell. Demonic creatures ripping people apart etc.

I realized this wasn’t a haunted, or even demon possessed building. It was gateway to Hell itself.

I was still the child inside the doctor and the last thing I remember was this guy coming into the kennel – and it switched back by his presence – and my trying to tell him about Hell being there. Then I turned back into the doctor and my child voice was crying out to save me. But he was afraid and ran away as I was “dragged” off inside the doctor’s body.

When I woke up, in that state of half consciousness – my first thought was “You were calling out to the wrong guy for help.” And I had this half-dream of my child self calling out “Jesus help me” and a white circular explosion going out from were I was, destroying all the Hell in the building.

Then I was fully awake and came up with a whole story about a group of Christian exorcists being called to the building. How they would have each have been disappointed and thought God has left them hanging but was really guiding them to the building.

The African missionary whom a prophet told he would fight the greatest evil of our time and then his mission board brought him home before he did anything about it. How he got off the plane in NYC – where the building was – and got called to the building.

About the group of Vineyard style third wave prayer team in NYC for a conference and prayerwalking past the the building, when Doug E. Doug comes running out.

And about the rich, guy with the nice car, in NYC on vacation, who everyone looks at and sees as shallow and materialistic, but who has the simple faith that says there isn’t anything that can stand against the name of Jesus.

OK now I’ve blogged my first dream and story idea.

Written while listening to “Human Touch”
album The Best of Rick Springfield
by Rick Springfield
Written while listening to “Wash My Hands”
album Blurring The Edges
by Meredith Brooks
Written while listening to “Dirrty (Cd quality)”
album Stripped
by Christina Aguilera
Written while listening to “Blue Hotel”
album Chris Isaak
by Chris Isaak
Written while listening to “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”
album All Time Greatest Hits
by Barry White
Written while listening to “Before You Accuse Me”
album The Unplugged Collection Volume One
by Eric Clapton
Written while listening to “Stand”
album Bad Bad One
by Meredith Brooks