Tag Archive for Jesus Christ

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

Thief on the cross

 

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.  He was there when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

God 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. I have found that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power.  As He reminded 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 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–Faith Without Deeds

Faith without deeds is dead

 

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?   Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  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?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 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.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 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.  The only thing I know about salvation is 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 9–Skepticism

Thinker

 

Although I have made it quite clear on this blog that I am a Christian, it might surprise you to learn that I am also a natural skeptic.  To get an idea of how that all started for me, let me take you back to the second grade.

 

So there I was in Sunday school at St. Mary’s at the age of seven.  I still believed in Mommy and Daddy, but had learned enough about the world to know that not everything people told you was true.

 

So then, the teacher gives the first lesson about God, the Daddy who was actually all knowing, all seeing and all-powerful.  The vocabulary word for that day was “omnipotent,” with which my seven-year-old tongue was having some difficulties.

 

Now wait a minute, I thought.  Not only are you going to tell me that there’s this God I can’t even see, but you are also going to tell me that he’s stronger than my parents are?  Not only that, but he’s stronger than Batman, Superman and the whole Justice League of America and the Avengers COMBINED?

 

There in that classroom, I had my first I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it moment, the first step of my intellectual maturity moving ahead of my spiritual maturity.  So I asked a question as intellectually mature as my 2nd-grade mind could muster.

 

“If God’s so strong that he can do anything, can he knock that clock off the wall?”

 

Now imagine the possibilities here.  I’m in SUNDAY SCHOOL!  In the presence of a TEACHER!  Who better to give me the spiritual knowledge, direction and guidance I needed to keep my spiritual maturity in step with my intellectual maturity?  It wouldn’t take long to explain at a seven-year-old’s level the difference between God’s power and God’s will.  Heck, I would have been happy with a simple yes or no!

 

But it didn’t happen that way.

 

Instead, I got the scowl of ultimate shame and a note home to my parents for my impertinence.

 

And no answer to my question.

 

Which made me wonder what other questions didn’t have answers.

 

And a skeptic was born.

 

Fast-forward 13 years.  That’s how long I had been feeding the skepticism.  If you do that long enough, you lose the distinction between doubt and belief, and doubt becomes your belief. 

 

So I didn’t believe in anything beyond what I could see or what I could do.  I allowed myself to believe the worldly lie that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.  In my first two years of college, the strategy of a skeptic appeared to be working for me.

 

But then in October 1989, I found myself in that cemetery, watching my last shred of what I thought I knew about life wither and blow away.

 

Then the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I believed in God for the first time.

 

But this isn’t the happy ending.

 

(For what happened next, come back for Part 10–Religion)

 

Doubt: Part 6–ABBA (Father)

Really?

That’s better.

 

If you intentionally focus on the things in your life that don’t move, the chaos will settle (in your mind at least) and eventually fade into the background along with your doubt.  However, this technique will only be as effective as your knowledge of what it is that doesn’t move.

 

If you are already at a place in your life where you have allowed doubt and skepticism to reign over all of your thinking, then you may have reached the point where you doubt truth itself or maybe even the existence of anything permanent.

 

This brings me back to the concept of spiritual maturity being separate from intellectual maturity.

 

It’s fairly easy to admit that you don’t know something factual and even easier to Google it and find out the answer.  However, growing spiritually is more difficult because it first requires that you admit you are a spiritual infant.  And pride has an issue with that notion.

 

Your level of doubt and skepticism is directly proportionate to your level of pride. The higher your pride level, the less likely you are to admit your vulnerabilities.

 

The reality is that your soul is still crying out like a baby.

 

You need your Daddy, but not the one who came home drunk and beat your mother while you watched, cowering in a corner.  Not the one who yelled and swore at you and told you you’d never amount to anything.  Not the one who was cold and distant and never did anything to make you feel loved or accepted.

 

You need the Daddy you should have had.  You need the one who always has the answers, always knows the right thing to do or say, the one who never fails.  The one you want to be just like when you grow up.  The one who accepts you as you are so that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life trying in vain to prove that he was wrong about you.

 

You need that Daddy.

 

You want that Daddy.

 

No matter how much you’ve tried to make a life for yourself apart from that, you will always have a hole in your soul that no amount of worldly success or knowledge can fill.

 

Only your Daddy can do that.  You were designed this way, to recognize that you can’t meet all of your own needs and to admit your dependence.

 

(Dependence on what? Come back for Part 7 to find out!)

 

Doubt: Part 5–Real/Not Real

real or not real

 

“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.”
Suzanne CollinsMockingjay

 

The key concept that must be grasped for a real relationship with God to be possible is to understand that your spiritual IQ is separate from your intellectual IQ.

 

No amount of life experience or number of college diplomas can get you any closer to God.  If anything, all that worldly knowledge gets you farther away from God, because the more stuff you’ve crammed into your own head, the more independent you feel.  You have moved WAY beyond your childhood belief that Mommy and Daddy are invincible.  You are making your own way, building your own life, and you don’t need anybody, not even God, to tell you what to do or how to live.

 

Except that you do.

 

Not all the time, but there are days and seasons where you reach the end of yourself and run out of answers, because your knowledge is incomplete.  When your spouse rejects you for another and you didn’t see it coming.  When you or a loved one get that diagnosis that only happens to “other people.”  When you lose your job.  When you get that phone call that no parent wants to get.  When the storms come leaving all your worldly possessions a pile of rubble.

 

The question is, what do you do then?

 

One of two things will happen.  Either you will become even more hardened and spiral downward from even the low place in which you have found yourself, or you will recognize that you are at rock bottom and look up.

 

Doubt happens.  Doubt is normal.

 

Doubt enters your mind the first time you encounter a fact that doesn’t coincide with your belief.  Doubt happens the first time you see your father cry.  It happens when you hear your parents fight.  It happens the first time you encounter someone who isn’t really all that concerned about your self-esteem.  It happens the first time you really watch the news.

 

Basically, there comes a day when the world doesn’t make as much sense as it did the day before.  And you start to wonder, “What else isn’t real?”

 

Now at this point, you have two choices.  You can make a list of what isn’t real or you can make a list of what is.

 

Most of us do a combination of the two, but I think our natural inclination is to lean toward the negative.  The problem is that going that way could be dangerous, because then our emotions kick in and overwhelm our logic.  Before long depression and apathy crash the party, and you just start not believing in anything.  This is frequently where God gets thrown out with the dishwater.

 

On the other hand, what would happen if you focused on what is real?  The positive things?  The things that don’t move?

 

This is the essence of being a Truthseeker, and the entire impetus behind my writing in the first place.

 

(What happens when you focus on the things that don’t move? Come back for Part 6–Abba (Father))

 

Doubt: Part 4–Faith

Faith like a child

 

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  (Mark 10:15 NIV)

 

Responding to God requires seeing things as they really are, even the part you can’t see (especially the part you can’t see), the way children do.

 

A child doesn’t worry about the same things an adult does.  Children trust that their parents are all knowing, all seeing and all-powerful.  Even though that isn’t really true, they believe.  In that belief, they feel safe and comforted.  This is what “faith like a child” means.

 

Now some might call this “blind faith,” since the children are believing something without questioning it and accepting as real something that isn’t.  However, nobody condemns children for believing in their parents.  Indeed, if children see a parent fail at too early an age, it can be devastating to their emotional health. This is because they are not yet intellectually developed enough to understand their own limitations.

 

Therefore, it never occurs to them that their parents might be finite, that their knowledge might be incomplete, that they can be taken by surprise, that they might fail, that they might just. . .not. . .know.

 

No, nobody would condemn that child for believing in Mommy and Daddy.  After all, they are children and do not know any better.  As they grow, their understanding of the world around them grows. Eventually, they figure out that Mommy and Daddy are people just like them.  And later, when they become the Mommy or Daddy, they really figure out how much their parents didn’t know.

 

 

So why are people condemned for responding to God with the faith of a child, when that is exactly how Jesus said to do it?

Well for starters, people who don’t know the Bible don’t know that’s how it is supposed to be done, and you can’t condemn them for simply not knowing.

 

More significantly, these people don’t know that your spirit does not necessarily grow at the same rate that your body and mind do.  In other words, that faith like a child does not mean intellect like a child.

 

Different ways of growing up

 

Children are going to grow older and taller without any effort on their part.  Physical maturity just happens (at least, to whatever extent anything just happens).

 

Mental maturity requires some input, however.  Children kept locked in a closet all their lives will still grow physically, but they won’t learn much.  To learn, you have to be exposed to knowledge.  As you get older and start thinking for yourself more, you become more skeptical of “knowledge.” You may doubt some things just because they “don’t sound right.”

 

Spiritual maturity, on the other hand, is a major workout.  Absolutely nothing will happen to your spiritual maturity unless you make it happen.  If you don’t, then even as your body grows, and your mind expands, you will still remain a spiritual infant.

 

(So how do you start on the path to spiritual maturity?  Come back for Part 5–Real/Not Real.)

 

Doubt: Part 2–Seeing the Wind

hurricane with photoshopped dolphin

The wind is invisible, but you know it is real.  You can feel a spring breeze blowing gently through your hair (or in my case, across my head).  In autumn, you can see tree branches bending and hear the rush and rustle of the leaves.  You can feel the sting of winter snow and sleet on your face as you lean into the driving wind.  In the summer, sometimes you see the damage the wind can leave behind—fallen trees, flattened barns, roofs torn asunder.

 

Nevertheless, you can’t see the wind itself.  So how do you know it’s there?  It leaves evidence of its existence.

 

If we are going to live solely in the realm of fact, we cannot define the wind.  We can measure its speed, we can observe its results, but we can’t catch it in a jar and look at it.  As Jesus told Nicodemus:

 

The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.  (John 3:8 NIV)

 

Nevertheless, meteorologists will not tell you that they “believe” in the wind.  They will tell you that they “know” it is there, because they can measure its effects scientifically.

 

 

This is perfectly logical.  However, my question is if it makes sense to call something that can’t be seen or measured in and of itself a scientific fact, why do people not use that same logic with God?

 

God is also invisible.  God also cannot be contained.  With His unseen presence, we feel joy with the spring breeze.  When we see the leaves blowing off of the trees in November, knowing that they will be back in April, we are reminded of the mortality of our bodies and the immortality of our souls.  We feel His comfort and warmth in the bleak winter and His calming presence in the storms of our summers.

 

But the thing is, you have to know about God to really experience these things.  The first time you feel wind on your face or see the tree branches or the green wave of cornfields blowing, someone has to tell you it’s the wind.

 

When a child hears an eerie moaning in the night, and does not know that it’s only the wind, he experiences fear.  Then his parents tell him about the wind, and he believes.  He still does not see the wind, but he believes; therefore, it is real to him.

 

So it is with faith.  Although we are all hard-wired to respond to God, emotionally and spiritually if not intellectually, we still have to be told about Him.  There has to be a mental connection before the feelings become real.

 

Even then, we still don’t see God, but we start to notice the evidence, and things start clicking.

 

(For a personal example of this evidence, and for more weather-related metaphors, come back for Part 3–Cloudy)

 

Doubt: Part 1–Object Permanence

peekaboo

As Christians, we should not be surprised when people doubt God.  There were some who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes and doubted.  I’m not just talking about Thomas; some watched Him go up into heaven and STILL doubted!  As Ron Weasley would have said, “How thick could you get?”

 

There is nothing wrong with doubting in and of itself.  For example, healthy doubt and skepticism can keep us from being victimized by liars.  Nevertheless, what matters more than whether or not you doubt is what you do with your doubt.

 

I’ll believe it when I see it. . .

 

It makes perfect logical sense to doubt the existence of a God you can’t see.  When we walk by sight, that is, if we will “believe it when we see it,” then it follows that we don’t believe in what we cannot see.

 

This goes all the way back to the concept of object permanence that our brains learn when we are infants.  If we can’t see Mommy or Daddy, then they have left us forever, so we cry.  But then Mommy or Daddy always shows up.  Eventually we figure out that Mommy and Daddy are real and permanent (relatively speaking) even when we can’t see them.

 

 

It’s really the same way with God; the only difference is how we go about seeing.  With object permanence, seeing is believing.  However, since God cannot be seen, this concept will not work.  To “see” God, you have to exercise not your eyeballs but your spirit.  This takes some learning.

 

First, you have to be aware that you even have a spirit.  We are all hard-wired to know this, but we still have to be aware of our instincts to act on them.  In other words, faith is useless if you don’t know what it is.  The Amplified Bible gives the best definition I have seen:

 

Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title-deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP)

 

Therefore, if walking by sight means you’ll believe it when you see it, then walking by faith means you’ll see it when you believe it.

 

This is foolishness to those folks who consider themselves “fact-based.”  These people will tell you that nothing is real unless they can hold it in their hand and tell you what it looks like.

 

I’ve always liked how Billy Graham answered this contention:

 

Can you see God?  You haven’t seen Him?  I’ve never seen the wind.  I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind. There’s a mystery to it.

 

(So can you see the wind? Come back for Part 2–Seeing the Wind. That was kind of obvious, wasn’t it?)

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”

 

Us and Them: Part 4–Love

 

You can love your country, but since a country is an abstract concept that really only exists as lines drawn on a map, it cannot love you back.  Your country can have a strong military, but that can’t keep you safe from what happens inside our borders.  Your elected officials can promise you everything, but they themselves are not in a position to truly provide you with anything.

 

Bottom line—if you put your hope in politics, you will always be disappointed.  However, there is a way not to be.

 

For the first 33 years of my life, my needs were never truly met.  But for the last nine, they have been.  Since surrendering my life to Jesus Christ, I have experienced love:

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13 NIV)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 NASB)

 

The first time I felt truly safe was when I learned and internalized these words:

 

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.  (Psalm 91:5-7 KJV)

Even in my moments of weakness, when I let world events and political rhetoric get the better of me, I still hold fast to this truth:

 

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  (Psalm 118:5-6 NIV)

 

And for the first time in my life, I finally have a hope and a future (anybody who has ever bought a wall plaque at Family Christian knows where I am going with this):

 

Yes, I know that this is one of the most overused, out-of-context Bible quotes of this age.  Yes, I know that it was a specific message given through the prophet Jeremiah for specific people in a specific situation at a specific time (the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the 6th century BC).

 

But see, that’s just it.  The Jewish exiles of 2,600 years ago had the same needs that we do today.  They needed to know that God still loved them, that He would preserve and protect them, even though they were captives in Babylon for 70 years, and that they would have a hope and a future (in their case, that they would return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem).

 

Different situation, different time, same needs.  Because they were “us,” just as we all were created to be “us.”

 

This is why I emphasize “common ground” so much when writing about the concept of being a Truthseeker.  These needs are common to all.

 

I have found that all of these needs are met in Jesus Christ, and in Christ alone.  I am able to love, because He loved me first, before I even acknowledged Him (1 John 4:19).  I know that under His protection, no weapon formed by man shall prosper against me (Isaiah 54:17).

 

But most of all, I have a hope and a future.  I know (because I have seen) that my Lord has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:2), and that a day will come when my cup will overflow with streams of living water, coming from God’s throne (Revelation 22:1)—the Day when my future will become my eternal present.

 

God wants this for all of “us.”  Christianity is not supposed to be an “us” vs. “them” proposition.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 to go and make disciples of all nations.  He didn’t say, “Go into the world, but don’t baptize or teach ‘them.’

 

(For a great example of how God really feels about “them,” come back for Part 5–Nineveh.)