Tag Archive for doubt

Overcoming the World: Part 10–Be Still and Know

God is our protection and our strength.  He always helps in times of trouble.  So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.
  The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender.  (Psalm 46: 1-2, 10-11 NCV)

 

Been an interesting few months, hasn’t it?  Our nation is as divided as it has been in a century and a half, and this is taking a toll on our families too.  Truth is nowhere to be found in our government, our media or our culture.  This has created an atmosphere of distrust so thick and noxious that even if this country were to somehow raise up a Truthseeker as a leader, who would even believe him or her?

 

Good news—God is still God.  It’s hard to find evidence in these troubled times that He is still on His throne, but where else would He be?  He does not change, no matter what happens down here.  When we say that the world is “out of control,” we mean that it’s out of our control.  It is never out of His.

 

However difficult this truth can be to hold onto when our lives are in turmoil, we must persevere in doing so.  Whenever our way of life is threatened because of what’s going on in the world around us, we have to remember that this way of life was never meant to last anyway.  We are looking forward to life eternal that will not pass away.  For this reason, we fix our eyes and our faith on the things that don’t move.

 

Bad days are going to happen.  Sometimes we will have seasons of life that could last months or years when we don’t feel God’s presence.  We may doubt His goodness, or even His existence.  However, whenever I find myself in such a spiritual funk, I always come back to what Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, after Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to desert Him, as many other disciples were doing:

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

 

I couldn’t go back to my old life if I wanted to, and there have been days where I wanted to.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort or the sacrifice that it takes to live the Christian life, because I can’t see the reward from here.  When my fear outweighs my faith, I forget what God has already done, throughout history, and in my life personally.  Some days I just want to chuck it all, but then I always find myself face to face with the question, “OK, then what?”

 

One thing that I have done for myself, and that I highly recommend for others, is to keep a journal of some sort listing every answer to prayer, every unexpected blessing, any time you have seen scripture fulfilled, any change in your life that can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Keep this in an easily accessible place.  I have mine as a document on the desktop of my computer.

 

When times get difficult, or if you’re just in a dry season of doubt, open that up and read it.  Satan can’t get a foothold in your mind if you keep your memories fresh of what God has done for you.  Staying in scripture every day is a good weapon, but it can be even more effective to regularly make the personal connection of where you’ve seen God at work in your life and the lives of those close to you.

 

If you do this, expect there to be some gaps in this journal.  It is not likely that you are going to experience a bona fide miracle every day of your life.  This doesn’t mean that God’s ignoring you.  Learning to trust His timing.  A day always comes when things fall neatly into place, and you can look back and see the progress that led to that point.  You very rarely notice that progress while it’s happening, though.  So when it does, put that in your journal with a note of thanksgiving and praise that God was in control of the situation from the very beginning.  Remember, He can see the end of things long before you get there.

 

It is also critical to remember that God doesn’t always ride in and “save us” whenever we think we need saving.  Sometimes, He lets us go through things for reasons that we aren’t aware of yet.  Sometimes we never learn why in this life.  If we have faith that all of our questions will be answered in heaven, that can help our outlook somewhat.  Remember, God doesn’t come around to our way of thinking; therefore, we must do our best to learn His.

 

The only way to conquer fear is to practice faith.  It has to be exercised just like our bodies.  If you are one of the many who has bought a health club membership, but not lost any weight or inches off your midsection, then you already know that your situation might improve if you actually went to the health club.  Owning the membership doesn’t create actual change.  Owning a Bible without reading it has the same effect.  Knowing about the power of prayer without actually praying—ditto.

 

In the same way, we must keep renewing our minds by reminding ourselves constantly that God does not change.  He does not move.  He is with us and He is for us.  And He always will be.

 

Be still, and know that.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 6–Internal to Eternal

 

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 NIV)

 

Life can really wear you out sometimes, can’t it?  We work so hard to try to better ourselves and to make the world a better place for our families, but some days, it just looks like we aren’t making a difference at all.  It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

 

What is it that wears us out when the problems of the world overwhelm us?  Everyone’s situation is different, of course.  It seems to me, though, that the things that often trouble us the most usually aren’t even happening to us directly.  The problems that are too much for us to bear weren’t even supposed to be our own personal burdens.  We barely have enough strength to get through the trials that life hands us, but we can’t seem to keep from taking on extra baggage as well.  Why do we do this?

 

Can we just call this what it is?  It’s fear.

 

It’s fear that gives birth to worry.  You worry when you seeing angry mobs rioting on the news, but is there an angry mob outside your house right now?  (Of course, if there actually IS one outside your house, you have an actual problem, and should stop reading this blog and go take care of yourself.)

 

My point is that we worry ourselves into exhaustion and despondency about things that aren’t even happening where we are.  Yes, they are happening in the world, and they are real, but if we’re not in a position to directly solve the problem, it’s not our problem.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by “not our problem.”  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about things in the world that are wrong and need fixing.  What I am saying is that 99.99% of the time, it’s not up to us to fix it, either because we lack the resources, the ability, or we are simply too far away to have a direct and immediate impact on the situation.

 

So what can we do?  We can give the situation over to the One who can do something about it.  And while we’re at it, we can give Him our anxieties as well.

 

Yes, the world is a mess.  It’s a mess because it has people in it, and people are a mess.  And yes, you and I are people, so guess what?  We’re a mess too!  But we can be less messy.

 

A good way to start that process is to examine what you expose your mind to.  How do you start your day?  If you’re turning on the TV or rushing to social media, that’s what’s going to set your tone for the rest of the day.  Is that the tone you want?  In the same amount of time, you could meditate on a Bible verse or an inspirational quote of some sort.  You can’t control what happens out in the world, but you can control what goes into your head, which is what feeds your attitude.

 

Once you have developed the habit of being intentional about this, it will become easier for you to shift your perspective from the now to the not yet.  When things are going badly, it is easy for fear to rob us of hope, but remember this.  EVERYTHING we fear, or could possibly fear, has an ending.  We may not be able to see it from where we’re sitting, but all the troublesome things of this world will pass.

 

Instead, what we can learn to do in ALL situations is to focus on the things that won’t pass away.  Truth.  Love.  The Word of God.  Best of all, the eternal life that is given as a free gift to all those who put aside their fears, worries and the troubles of this world and trust in Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has overcome all of them.

 

Now of course, we can’t see any of this.  We can’t see our fear, the Lord’s Spirit, the actual physical Kingdom of Heaven.  We only see this world, its problems, and our own aging faces in the mirror.

 

But as the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

 

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 6–Prosperity

“. . .  God wants to make your life easier.  He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages.  He wants you to have preferential treatment.”  Joel Osteen—Your Best Life Now

 

 

This quote is an example of a concept known as “prosperity gospel.” There are several variations on the theme, but the main idea is that the Bible’s references to promises of blessing and prosperity are a contract between God and His children.  All Christians have to do is confess, or “speak into existence” God’s promises, and He is bound to deliver on them.  Both proponents and critics of prosperity theology sometimes refer to it simply as “name it and claim it.”

 

Indeed, there are many examples of God promising blessings in the Bible.  Here are just a couple of them:

 

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.  My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.  (John 10:10 NLT)

 

 

And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deut 28:11 ESV)

 

 

We have both the right and the position to ask God for anything in prayer, but remember this.  He doesn’t owe us anything, and we owe Him EVERYTHING!  If we don’t keep that reality in clear focus, then we are likely to approach God with an attitude of entitlement, rather than one of humility.  The result is that, in our minds, God becomes a supernatural ATM, spitting out the blessing whenever we insert our “believe to receive” card.

 

But wait a minute.  Isn’t “believing to receive” the whole point of faith?  When we ask, we are supposed to believe and not doubt, and God does promise blessings to those who believe, so what’s the problem with believing that God will keep His word regarding prosperity?

 

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with trusting God to keep His promises.  What’s wrong is the American definition of prosperity.

 

Let’s face it, y’all.  We are SPOILED in this country.

 

As I write this, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  Most American’s can’t live on that.  Just about nobody can raise a family on that.  Fast food workers are demanding more than twice that in some areas.

 

And yet, our federal MINIMUM wage yields an income higher than that of 92% of the world.

 

Think about that for a minute.  If you are working full-time and making federal minimum wage (many states are higher), then you are already doing better than six billion people are.

 

But do you FEEL rich?  In most cases, I would expect that would be a no.

 

And what about those other six billion people who make less?  2.1 billion of them are Christians.  Are they prospering?  Is God keeping His promises to them?

 

Here is a verse that is NOT frequently quoted by prosperity gospel adherents, “Beloved, I pray that with respect to all things you may prosper and be healthy, just as your soul is prospering (3 John 1:2 DLNT).”

 

The folks that would have you believe that it’s God’s job to make your life easier are putting a period in place of the comma in the verse above.  Prosper and be healthy in all things!  Sounds great!

 

But there’s something else there—a “just,” sometimes translated as “even.”  John’s assumption is that physical and material prosperity will follow and accompany spiritual prosperity.

 

So what does that look like?

 

You need look no further than Paul.  First, consider this rundown of his physical circumstances:

 

Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip.  Three different times I was beaten with rods.  One time I was almost stoned to death.  Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea.  I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews.  I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea.  And I have been in danger with false Christians.  I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep.  I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food.  I have been cold and without clothes.  (2 Cor 11:24-27 NCV)

 

And yet, the same man says this:

 

I’m not saying that because I need anything.  I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me.  I know what it’s like not to have what I need.  I also know what it’s like to have more than I need.  I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens.  I am content whether I am well fed or hungry.  I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough.  I can do everything by the power of Christ.  He gives me strength.  (Php 4:11-13 NIRV)

Contentedness is the secret to a prospering soul.  And this comes from trusting not that God will give you everything you want for your purposes, but that you will have everything you need for His.

 

So how about it?  Is your soul prospering?  If so, then you are already living “Your Best Life Now.”  You don’t have to “believe God” for the biggest house in the neighborhood to make it better.

Whatever We Ask: Part 5–Unstable

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.  But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:5-8 NABRE)

 

Back in 2012, we ran a series on Doubt, in which we discussed that doubt could be healthy if you put it to work for you by testing new information in your search for Truth.

 

Nevertheless, doubt is not always a healthy thing.  It is one matter to doubt one person’s interpretation of scripture or another individual’s worldview.  It is quite another to doubt God Himself.

 

God knows what you need.  He knows it before you know it.  He is not only capable, but also willing to meet your needs.  Yet, it is not your need that He responds to when you pray.  It is your faith.

 

Prayer is based on trust.  We ask God to meet our needs and hear our petitions because we believe and trust that He will handle the situation.  If we didn’t believe that, why pray at all?

 

But we still do that sometimes, don’t we?  Have you ever offered up a prayer because it seemed like the thing to do, but you didn’t really expect that your prayer would be answered?

 

Jesus’ brother James is not one to mince words, as you can see in the passage above.  He explicitly says that someone who doubts when he prays will not get the answer to their prayer that they hope for.  The key word there is “hope.”

 

There are two different kinds of hope.  There is expectant hope, where you are welcoming an event in advance that has not yet come to pass, and there is “I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I sure HOPE it does.”

 

Again, what is the point of praying if you don’t expect an answer?  Do you believe that God is God or don’t you?  If we offer up a prayer from a position of worry, then we are literally “of two minds.”  One mind is thinking of God answering the prayer, and the other is thinking of a Plan B.

 

When we do this, what we are really doing is making God the Plan B, because worry and anxiety will always cut in line ahead of whatever else is present.

 

So clearly, it is a daunting task to hold both kinds of “hope” in your mind at the same time.  Just as you cannot serve two masters, you cannot persevere on two different paths in life simultaneously.

 

So when James says that a person who does this is “unstable in all his ways,” he is not only saying that this person is indecisive, but by extension, that he cannot be trusted.

 

That sounds inordinately harsh, but think about it.  We’re talking about Christians here.  If we can’t even make up our minds about relying on the God we claim to serve, then who would ever rely on US to follow through on anything?  A person who spends their life in an endless “What If?” loop never gets anything done that needs doing.

 

So if that’s what unstable looks like, then what about stable?

 

Throughout the Bible, the image of a rock is used to denote stability.  God Himself is referred to as the Rock on many occasions.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also uses this image to describe a life lived by faith:

 

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-5 HCSB)

 

Notice the “and” in Jesus’ statement.  It’s not enough to hear what He’s saying and answer with a “yeah, but. . .”  Stability and security come not from passive hearing, but from active LISTENING and the follow-through that accompanies it.

 

Now having used the word “security” there, I am reminded of one more issue regarding the answering of prayers.  One that is particularly sticky to us here in the USA.

 

(Come back for the conclusion in Part 6—Prosperity)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 4–(Un)answered Prayers

All prayers are answered.  Sometimes the answer is, “No.”—Bono

 

 

One of the pitfalls of the Christian life is how easy it is to backslide from “highly favored child of God” to “spoiled brat.”

 

We have seasons of life where everything seems to be going our way, and we give God the glory for that.  But then life throws us a curveball, and the whining starts.

 

“Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  He said He’d give me anything I ask for.  Haven’t I been ‘doing it right’?”

 

The truth is that God does answer prayer, but not always in the way that we expect.

 

Sometimes we get excited and run up ahead when He needs us to hold back and notice something He wants to show us.  Sometimes selfishness creeps in and the “desires of our hearts” become more like the cravings of our appetites.  And sometimes, we simply don’t recognize the answer for what it is when it comes.

 

God is not a vending machine or an ATM.  We exist to serve Him, not the other way around.  For this reason, the point of prayer isn’t primarily to address our own needs.  Jesus explained it this way:

 Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them.  Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants.  Then all your other needs will be met as well.  (Matthew 6:31-33 NCV)

Prayer is your Out box.  When you put something in your Out box at work, do you pull it back and put it in your In box again?  No, you put it in the Out box because you are finished with it.

 

Whatever it is that you are praying for, God has a plan for it.  It may not be the plan you would have scripted for yourself, but think for a minute.  Who’s smarter, you or God?  Don’t you think it might be possible that Father knows best?

 

There’s more to it than that though.  Logic alone will tell you that God is bigger, more powerful and more able to meet your needs.  The question is, “Do you TRUST Him to do that?”  Do you believe that He not only knows what’s best for you, but that He WANTS what’s best for you?

 

How you answer that question will determine how you respond to His answers.  If you really believe that God’s way will lead to a better result than anything you could have come up with, then it becomes a lot easier to roll with the changes when they do come.

 

(But what happens if we don’t?  Come back for Part 5—Unstable)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

 

 

I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it.  (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”)  By then, it was already too late for me.  But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.

 

Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity.  It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture.  What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.”  The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself.  And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.

 

But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge!  If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.

 

And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely.  Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible.  According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study.  That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i] 

 

Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews).  According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]

 

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture.  Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.

 

This is dangerously false.  According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary.  And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY!  If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.

 

Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study.  Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking.  Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered.  Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  [iii]

 

But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?

 

Actually, that is possible in certain situations.  For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them.  Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.

 

If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn.  Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.

 

But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America.  I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them).  They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night).  It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).

 

Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture.  It never has been.

 

The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along.  At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.

 

Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings.  They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”

 

How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).

 

(I did meet one priest that got it though.  For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)



[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/2012/Catholic-Bible-Engagement

[iii] http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm


Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.

 

Doubt: Part 10–Religion

 

 

 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  19 You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  I don’t know anything about salvation except for the fact that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Doubt: Part 8–Healthy Doubt

 

The world is well equipped to fulfill our desires, but when it comes to our true needs– not so much.

 

We can have everything we’ve ever wanted, but it will never be all that we need.  All of our stuff can fail or vanish in an instant.  Most of us don’t find ourselves in that situation, but any of us could.

 

Therefore, we need to be aware that what we really need is what is provided for us, not what we can create ourselves.  For everything we create was created out of something that was already created.  We cannot create something from nothing.

 

That awareness is the key to the beginning of spiritual maturity.

 

You have to be aware of what you need.  You have to be aware of how you are unable to create anything that meets your true needs.  Finally, you have to be aware of who provides the means for your needs to be met.

 

Again, once you have reached this point, you have a choice.

 

Do you acknowledge your dependence and admit that you are a spiritual infant and that you really need your Daddy to come and make everything better?  Or do you reject that notion and try even harder to fix it yourself, blindly ignoring the reality that you are only repeating the same process that got you to the needy state you’re currently in?  That is the road that pride will lead you down every time.

 

We are left then with the inescapable conclusion that the only way to have our needs truly met is to surrender our pride and admit our dependence.

 

In other words, we have to use our doubt in a healthy way that leads us to the truth instead of away from it.

 

I am not saying that we should never doubt, because doubt will show up uninvited, and there’s nothing to be done about that.  What I am saying is that instead of letting doubt and skepticism rule our thinking, we should take our doubts captive and use them to eliminate everything on the “not real”  list.

 

Then we must make the final step of acknowledging that whatever is left over is real.

 

Not all of you reading this will believe it just because I said so (nor should you), but I can tell you that whenever you use your doubt to find what is real rather than what is not, God will always end up on your “real” list.  You can’t escape that, no matter how hard you might try.

 

(For a personal story of how I tried anyway, come back for Part 9–Skepticism)

 

Doubt: Part 7–Dependence

This is my declaration of dependence
This is my declaration of my need
This is my declaration of dependence
On the one who gave His life to me
 Stephen Curtis ChapmanDeclaration of Dependence

 

It is easy to say that, in our culture today, we feel less dependent than ever before.  The reality, however, is that we have merely shifted our dependence.

 

Every culture in every age has been dependent on something.  For example, when the Israelites didn’t like the way that God and Moses were leading them through the desert, they made the idol of a golden calf and worshipped it instead.  Now how stupid is it to bow down to something you just made with your own hands?

 

Hold the phone a minute.  Literally.

 

That gadget in your pocket or purse right now?  Tell me you’re not dependent on it.  All the things with screens and buttons that you own?  Even the computer you’re reading this on right now?

 

Make a quick mental list of all the things you couldn’t imagine living without.  The things you “don’t know how we ever got along without.”

 

All of them were made by human hands.  Your car.  Your alarm clock.  Your indoor plumbing.  Your coffeemaker.  Your water heater.  Your air conditioner.  Your refrigerator/freezer.  I could go on and on.

 

All of these things were created by people.  All of them can break.

 

Nevertheless, as hard as this may be to admit, you can live without every single one of them.  We know this to be true, because before these gadgets were invented, EVERYBODY lived without them.

 

All of these things were invented because their inventors believed that life would be better with them.  At least that’s the message that the advertisers hammer home to get you to buy more of this stuff.

 

Why do countless people stand in line for the new iPhone?  Because they believe they need it to make their life better, and they have allowed themselves to become blind to the reality that the entire human race has gotten along fine for its entire existence WITHOUT being dependent upon that new iPhone, or whatever the toy du jour is.

 

So what do you REALLY need?  Let’s make another list.

 

You need air, water, food, shelter, and physical protection.  Meeting these needs will ensure the continuance of your existence.

 

But here’s something you might not have thought of.

 

ALL of these needs require you to be dependent on something you did NOT make with your own hands.

 

Now sure, you can cook your own food, build your own house, sew your own clothes, and maybe even make your own medicine if you know how.  But out of what?

 

The food you are cooking either grew out of the ground by a process you didn’t invent or had life of its own that you did not give it.  The materials that you made your own clothing, shelter or medicine from already existed in a form you did not create.

 

The bottom line is that there really is no such thing as a man-made need.  There are all kinds of man-made desires, but you can live without every single one of them.

 

(So how can we tell the difference?  Come back for Part 7–Healthy Doubt)