Small Acts Done with Great Love

I found myself sitting in my hotel room watching Seinfeld as a distraction.  My wife was downstairs in the car.  I was angry.  She was angry.  Rarely do Paula and I get to the point where we don’t even want to be in the same room, but that is where we were.  The cause of our anger was plain and simple.

I was being a jerk.

I had been a jerk to her from the moment we had begun loading up the car to head to Tulsa to watch our oldest play basketball and all throughout the day.  We had both hoped for a nice getaway to Tulsa for just the two of us, and I had ruined any chance of such an evening.

We decided to go for a 5 mile walk and talk things out.  I didn’t want to talk at first.  Like I said, I was angry.  She was angry too.  The first mile of our walk was an awkward dance of conversation, but as the miles passed by the truth came out.

The truth was I was lonely.  The truth was, that outside of the people who had to love me (God, my wife, the boys), I felt completely alone.  Anyone who has been in ministry for any time at all can tell you that the ministry can be a lonely place.

Maybe I was tired from the constant decision making of a building program I didn’t sign up for.  For those of you who don’t know my story as of late, our church was set on fire by some young people in our community last October.  The entire building has been gutted to the studs and we are in the middle of rebuilding.  Honestly I don’t really care if the shingles on the roof are slate or charcoal, and I can’t tell the difference between “mysterious” grey and “hazy” grey.  It’s all grey to me.  Maybe the constant demands of a building project were wearing on me.

Maybe my melancholy mood was due to the fact that I had been wading through some tough issues with some people, and it seemed like I was always giving.  It seemed like people only wanted what they could get out of me- advice, encouragement, support.  It wasn’t like I had been a hermit and secluded myself.  Maybe I just wanted someone to sit with me over coffee and just let me be Nate.  Not a problem fixer or a means of support.  Maybe I just wanted someone to just let me be me for a change.

Or maybe I was missing my best friend.  Every June, I am reminded of the best friend I ever had, Simon.  From the third grade on, we were best buds.  He was the most magnetic person I have ever been around.  We were inseparable through grade school and middle school.  In high school we drifted apart a bit because of different interests.  I was in basketball and band, he was in choir, but we were those types of friends who always picked right back up where we left off.  When we were young he used to play the Disney record (I’m dating myself here) of The Fox and the Hound and make me say it with him: “And we’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?”  And I would respond, “Yeah forever.”

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In the last conversation I had with Simon, he told me that he still considered me his best friend, even though we hadn’t seen each other very often after high school.  I concurred.  Outside of my wife, he was the best friend I have ever had.  On June 6th, 1994, he disappeared while backpacking in Hawaii and has never been found to this day.  Maybe it was June again and I was missing the kind of friendship I had with Simon.

Whatever it was, I was hurting and I took it out on Paula.  I have often used the phrase “hurting people hurt people” to describe the actions of others, but this time it was me who was doing the hurting.  After walking a few more miles, I was finally able to verbalize the fact that I was taking my frustration out on my wife.  We celebrated by doing what we do best- eating Mexican food!  We settled into the patio at Los Cabos and enjoyed a live band and lots of chips and queso.  (We had earned eating that Mexican food with our 5 mile walk right?)

One week later (this past weekend) I celebrated my birthday.  Through Facebook posts, texts, and getting together with family and friends I was reminded of the wealth of relationships that God has given me.  On my saner days (the days when I am not singing songs about eating worms) I realize that I have been blessed with so many great relationships.  I have some pastor friends that I meet with on a regular basis to just “be Nate” and share life and ministry together.  I have friends who I have celebrated birthdays with like we were family for over 20 years now.  My relationship with my parents and my brother is as good as it has ever been in my lifetime.  My immediate family (Paula and the boys) are a constant source of joy.  The list could go on and on.

This weekend, I had the privilege of spending the weekend with my mom and her husband Bill.  We went to Top Golf, played cards, tried our hand at cornhole, grilled out, and just generally had a great time together.  My family surprised me with some awesome gifts including tickets to see Coldplay.  Then I opened up my Facebook to see that a couple hundred people had wished me a happy birthday.  What a testament to all the great relationships that God has blessed me with down through the years.

Then Saturday night, something caught me off guard.  I remember going to a haunted house as a kid and when we had finished walking through the haunted house, we walked out an open door into the night.  We began talking about how scary the house was as we walked back to the car.  All of a sudden, a guy jumps out from behind a tree with a chainsaw buzzing and we all shot out of there like a cannon.  It was easily the scariest part of the entire house because we had let our guard down.

That, in essence, is what happened to me on Saturday night.  My birthday was over and I was preparing to preach another Sunday.  Paula and I had gone to the church to straighten some things up for in the morning and our youngest son had asked us to bring his guitar by Cobey’s house.  You see, our youth have this habit of all getting together on Saturday night at Cobey’s and, at camp, they had talked about singing some worship songs together as part of the gathering.

So I walked up to the door with Tyler’s guitar in hand.  I made a joke to Paula about just barging in to make sure our boys were behaving themselves.  She knocked on the door anyway.  When the door opened, I was pelted with balloons, there were streamers hung up, and I was greeted with a big hearty SURPRISE!  Now I am a hard person to surprise, but I was completely blindsided like the time at that haunted house.  I was blindsided by their surprise, but more than that I was blindsided by the love that a group of teenagers had for their pastor.  They had put the whole party together by themselves.  Hot dogs, chips, drinks, balloons, streamers, the works!  It was a simple act, but a huge one to me personally.

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Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  The youth of our church had no idea about the events of my week.  My own boys had no idea that I had treated their mom like a jerk a week earlier.  They had no idea of the loneliness I had felt.  They just did a small thing that was a huge thing to their pastor.

It served as a good reminder to me that we never know what a person is going through and what a small act of kindness might mean!

Just a thought,

n8

NYC Reflections…

I just returned home from Nazarene Youth Conference.  It was my 5th NYC to attend in a row.  Sometimes, after you have seen one, you have seen them all…  However, this was not the case at last week’s event.  God moved in powerful ways in students’ lives.  It was a privilege for me to get to be there.

But more than God working in student’s lives, God worked in my life.  Over the years, God has spoken to me through lots of “youth” gatherings.  When I am open and attentive to God’s voice, God never leaves me disappointed…

There seemed to be one main thing for me at NYC this year.  God was continually challenging me to think about what I treasure.  Obviously, as a pastor, I would say that I treasure my relationship with God above anything else, but sometimes in the drudgery of day to day life, our lifestyle can begin to speak otherwise.

Probably the one thing that will stick with me from this NYC was the final message by Eric Samuel Timm.  He had 24 boxes on the stage to represent each hour of the day.  Then he told us that we should get rid of the phrase “spending time” from our vocabulary.  We don’t spend time, we invest it.

Probably the best example of this was his illustration about guitar hero.  When I was a youth pastor, guitar hero was all the rage.  Eric talked about how investing time in guitar hero was a bit ridiculous because the return on your investment is small.  Even if you master every level on the game, you still can’t even begin to play a real guitar!  Imagine what would happen if the same sixth grader invested as much time in playing the REAL GUITAR.  Then he would have a skill that would last a lifetime.

This idea of investing time hit me over the head.  What am I investing in?  The latest Netflix binge or hours of mindlessly looking at Facebook for something interesting?  What are the returns on these investments?  Not that these things are bad in and of themselves, but what am I investing my life in?

When you are in your forties, you begin to realize how precious time is…

I want to invest it wisely…

I was privileged to get to share this NYC with my entire family.  When we returned, we sat around a table a Chili’s and talked about some new habits we hope to form as a family because of what God has done in our lives.

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I’m excited to see where the journey takes us!

Just a thought,

n8

The ONE THING Missing from the Same-Sex Marriage Conversation

Like a lot of people, since the SCOTUS ruling came down last Thursday, I have read post after post about same-sex marriage.  On my Facebook page, I have people on both sides of the issue, but, as a pastor, the majority of my friends are people within the North American church.  As I have watched the Church respond to the supreme court ruling, there is one thing that no one in the Church seems to be talking about.  The only reason I am writing this blog is because I believe this one thing has been left out of the conversation.  The Lord knows that none of us need to read another blog right now.

The one thing I continually see left out of conversations about same sex marriage is the Christian virtue of HUMILITY…

I see lots of posts drawing lines in the sand.  I see lots of posts defending our stance with the bible.  I see lots of posts using fear mongering to scare the American public about the ramifications of this decision.  I don’t see a lot of posts drenched in humility.  I think, especially in this conversation, the church could use a little humility.

The first reason we could stand to be humble is that WE HAVE BEEN WRONG BEFORE.

Remember Galileo and Copernicus?  The church argued on the authority of the bible that the EARTH WAS FLAT!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I don’t know any Christians in the North American church today that would argue such a thing.  But books were banned, and the word heretic was thrown around because people began believing the earth was round, and revolved around the sun.

And of course, we all know the church’s sordid history with slavery.  The bible was used to support slavery for many years.  Scriptures were quoted and proof texted.  People who talked about racial equality were persecuted because everyone “knew” the bible endorsed slavery.  Today, no reasonable theologian would conclude that slavery is endorsed by the bible.

Perhaps we should let history teach us that these issues aren’t always as cut and dried as the church would like to make them.  Maybe we should approach such issues with humility, knowing we’ve been wrong before.

The second reason it would seem to me that humility is in order in the discussion of same sex marriage is that EVEN IN SCRIPTURE, THE UNDERSTANDING OF A “BIBLICAL MARRIAGE” SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED.

The truth is that we have to be willing to deal with memes like this one:biblemarriage

I saw another meme that said that the bible is not trail mix, you don’t just get to pick out the parts you like.  But if we are honest, we all do a little picking and choosing.  This meme is obviously generated to garner a response, but there is some truth in it.  We have to be willing to wrestle with the fact that polygamy was an acceptable practice throughout much of the Old Testament. We have to read all of Leviticus if we are going to use the part about homosexuality being a sin.  We all understand that there are a lot of places where we pick and choose what we want to adhere to in the book of Leviticus.

And let’s take an even more modern example, divorce.  The church, even in the last century, has lightened its stance on divorce and the remarriage of divorced people EVEN THOUGH Jesus himself seems to speak pretty plainly about the issue in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt 5:31-32)  We seem to have changed our stance on divorce in spite of Jesus’ words. I don’t know many Christians that would even debate whether a divorced person can remarry without committing adultery.

I believe we should be a little more humble when we talk about the bible’s definition of traditional marriage.

By this point, you may be wondering where I stand on the issue of marriage.  First of all, I belong to a denomination (Church of the Nazarene) that believes that marriage is defined as one man and one woman.  Our denominational leaders released a statement that you can read here.

When I was ordained, I promised to return my credentials to my church if my beliefs were ever out of harmony with our denominational beliefs.  I have not done so.

I believe, and have gone on record at my church as saying, that the best definition of marriage is between one man and one woman.  For me, you can throw out the proof texts that everyone uses to say “the bible says” homosexuality is wrong.  I’m not really one for proof texting anyway.  For me, it comes back to the image of God.

Genesis 1:27

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

For me, the best representation of God isn’t a man, although we have often made God into a man.  And for me, the best representation of God isn’t a woman, although we probably haven’t emphasized God’s feminine qualities enough.

For me, the best representation of God is a man and a woman coming together, both the male and female qualities of God, in a monogamous marital union.  I believe that is why Jesus says:

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 

So that is what I believe…

But I also hold onto my belief with humility.  I am trying to be willing to enter into conversations with those who believe that same-sex marriage is perfectly compatible with Christianity because I know that the church has been wrong before.  For the past year and a half, I have prayed this prayer: “Holy Spirit, don’t let us miss on this issue like we did slavery and the earth being flat.  Guide your church.”  And I believe the Spirit will.

We Wesleyans have a great mentor in John Wesley.  His bust sits on my desk in my office.  Wesley was convinced that the bible is NEVER wrong, but that our interpretations of scripture can be.  He used other factors like tradition, reason, and experience to help shape his understanding of scripture.  Most likely, it is these elements that helped the church see that the earth was indeed round, that slavery is actually an abomination in God’s eyes, and that polygamy may sound great in theory but doesn’t work in practice! (read the stories of Rachel and Leah)

[If you are interesting in a good framework for a Wesleyan approach to these conversations please see Dr. Tim Crutcher’s blog]

I am convinced that, as we approach scripture with humility, God will lead the Church again.  It seems to me that in the past week, we have been so busy fighting for our “rights” (which seems antithetical to Jesus on the cross) that we forgot to exhibit the Christian virtue of humility.  May God give us the grace to do so in the coming days.

Just a thought,

n8

Pura Vida- Lessons from Costa Rica

I got back from Costa Rica a week ago.  I attended a conference called Third Wave for young leaders in the church of the Nazarene from all over the globe.  (Not sure I fall in the “young leader” catagory so much anymore)  The trip was amazing…

First of all, it was in COSTA RICA!  It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited on the earth.  The land was teeming with life.  I saw more plant species than I thought possible.  We ate with monkeys at our hotel.  I got to hold a toucan and visit gorgeous waterfalls.  It was amazing.

The country of Costa Rica has a slogan- Pura Vida!  It means pure life.  People will walk up to you in a public place and greet you with “Pura Vida!”

And yet, in Costa Rica, people are looking for that “pure life” in lots of ways.  Some of them look a lot more like bondage and slavery than pure life.

One of the things that God did for me was to open my eyes to how narcissistic I have become.  And I don’t think I am alone.  We Americans are a narcissistic lot.  We walk into a foreign country expecting other people to know English, but we haven’t taken the time to brush up on their native language a bit.  We expect a certain level of comfort, or we get frustrated.  We literally seem to believe that the center of the universe is the good ole USA.

Some of my team members and I noticed that the Europeans at the conference tended to speak 2 or 3 languages. We felt lazy.  Many of the Spanish speakers spoke English as well.  I only know how to speak English and Texan…

My friend Blair was telling me that one of his professors used to have a saying for the teams he sent out to do mission work.  It was something along the lines of “You have no rights.”  We joked about that, but God began to stir my heart as I thought about that saying.

See, I’m not sure that saying should be isolated to “mission” work.  After all, aren’t we ALWAYS on mission?  Shouldn’t we always be “without rights?”

The the question began to swirl around in my head.  “Did Jesus REALLY MEAN IT when he said that the person who loses his life will find it?”

In this new year, I have been praying the prayer of Saint Francis every day at noon.  It ends like this:

“For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Do I believe this?  Do WE believe this?  To top it off, we prayed the Wesley Covenant Prayer at the Conference.  Take a moment to read this:

I am no longer my own, but yours.Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

This whole prayer is a prayer of death.  Dying to our wishes, and surrendering to Christ’s wishes.  We live in a country where people choose their church based on their personal preference.  We live in a country where we organize our calendars around our personal agendas.  We live in a country where we spend hours seeing how many likes we had on Instagram or Facebook.  And yet, we wonder why we aren’t experiencing “pura vida.”

Maybe “pure life” comes through a “pure death”…

Maybe Jesus meant it when he said that whoever loses his life will find it…

I’m trying to live into this, and it is hard.  I’m trying to die to my opinion of how bad the ref’s call was at my son’s basketball game.  I’m trying to be thankful for my daily bread, and die to my preference of restaurant choice.  I’m trying to die to my own ambitions as a pastor, and be thankful for the people God has called me to serve.  I’m trying to learn to die, but I have to tell you that dying is hard.  There is this thing inside me that is always quick to want MY way, and MY rights, and MY timing.

But I am finding that there is something about dying that brings new life in me.  And in the place of this life that I have constructed, a new life is emerging…

And it is not just any life, it is “Pura Vida!”

Just a thought,

n8

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A Christmas Miracle

If you are a Nazarene (especially in our part of the country) you may have heard the Christmas story of the Toler Brothers.  All three of these brothers have been pastors and leaders in our denomination.  I recently found an article from NewsOK that recounts their miracle Christmas:

“Dad had been laid off from construction work, our food supply had dwindled to nothing, and we had closed off most of the house in order to cut down on our high utility bills,” Stan wrote. On Christmas Eve, they and hundreds of others waited in line for government handouts. The family shivered in the blowing snow until finally, Aaron Toler could not stand it any longer. They left without food. “We’re going home, boys. God will provide!” Stan recalls his father saying. “We cried,” Stan wrote, “but trusted Dad’s faith in God completely.” That night, the family ate popcorn and opened gifts that Mom had bought with Top Value trading stamps. On Christmas morning, as the entire family slept in the parents’ bedroom, a loud knock and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” startled them. The visitors were from the Fifth Avenue Church. “There stood Clair Parsons, Dalmus Bullock and others with gifts, clothes and a 30-day supply of food,” Stan wrote. “(Yes, dried pinto beans, cornmeal and a huge roll of bologna were included!) Since that day, I have always believed that God will provide, and that God is never late when we need a miracle.

(You can read the entire article about the Toler brothers HERE)

I pastor a Nazarene church.  Our name “Nazarene” indicates the desire of our founding mothers and fathers to be a church for ANYONE.  Even people from Nazareth!  You see, Nazarenes weren’t the up and comers in the world.  They weren’t the wealthy an influential.  In fact, when Nathaniel found out Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

At times we have gotten away from our roots.  We have tried to be successful.  We have moved out of the cities into the suburbs.  We have built beautiful buildings and created magnificent youth centers.  We might have even snubbed our noses at the “Nazarenes” of the world, wondering if anything good could come from such places.

This week I was on the phone with a lady from an organization I work with here in town.  She was telling me about a young couple that she ran into.  She was casually asking how the couple’s Thanksgiving went.  The couple just sat there quietly, not saying much.  Another lady chimed in and asked, “Did you eat a lot of food?”  It finally came out that the couple had eaten breadsticks from little caesars that one of them had brought home from work.

It hit me hard to know that people in my town are eating breadsticks for Thanksgiving or any day for that matter.

I’ll have to admit, being a pastor has made me a bit cynical about giving at times.  We get lots of calls at the church from people just wanting us to pay their water or gas bill.  People sometimes lie to you to get what they want, and sometimes it becomes obvious they are doing so.  Jesus tends to say things like “Give to everyone who begs from you”, and then wisdom says that we only have so many resources so I need to make sure I am giving to a GENUINE need.  It’s definitely a tough balance.

But when I heard about this family in MY community that is eating breadsticks for Thanksgiving (and a lot of other days from what I can gather), It broke my heart.  So I wanted to do something about it.

So I want to challenge all my Midwest City friends (It doesn’t matter if you attend our church or not) to do me a favor.  While you are at the grocery store, stocking up for you big Christmas shindig, could you pick up some things that could be EASILY HEATED in an oven (pizza rolls, hot pockets, think the freezer aisle), Mac and Cheese and the like, or crackers, cookies, etc… We are not wanting a big turkey or lots of ingredients, because to make a full fledge Christmas meal might be overwhelming.  (Up until just recently they didn’t have pots and pans to cook with)  We are hoping the food will last them a month or so…

Items can be dropped off at Community Church of the Nazarene, 10200 SE 15th MWC, OK 73130 on SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21st from 7 AM- 12:30 PM

That Christmas for the Toler brothers changed their lives.  The church of the Nazarene is grateful to that little church that brought them food, we have been blessed with 3 great leaders.  We may not see the same results here in Midwest City, but we WILL experience Christ in the act of giving. ( “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”)

I hope that Community Church of the Nazarene will get back to our roots of being the church for those who may be at difficult places in life.  My prayer is that this will be a springboard for us as a church that will help us to begin to provide for the TANGIBLE needs of members of our community into the new year!  (I am already hearing of more families we may be able to assist)

I hope you will join me in being part of someone else’s miracle Christmas!

Pastor Nate

There is No “I” in Pastor…

I have a problem.  It’s my ego…

I never really noticed the problem as a youth pastor.  I never considered myself to be much of a ladder climber.  I was content to be a youth pastor.  I never took attendance on Wednesday nights.  I just loved doing ministry.

Then I turned to the dark side.  That’s what we youth pastors would say to all our friends who became senior pastors.  We accused them of turning to the dark side.  I thought it was a joke, but in some ways maybe it wasn’t.

When I became a Sr. Pastor, all of a sudden I seemed to be constantly evaluated by the size of my congregation.  I had to turn in my numbers every month.  All of the sudden, I had to be concerned about the offerings.  We had to make sure the bills were paid.  Our denomination has an assembly every year where we report.  There is a book that contains the stats of all of the churches in it, including attendance and finances.  It seems like we are always being measured by a business model that measures success by numbers and revenue.  Honestly, it messed with me a little.

I began to realize that my ego was heavily tied to my ministry.  I was turning to the dark side, literally.  And I don’t think I am alone.

I’ll never forget when one of our members asked me the question, “How come God never seems to call pastors to smaller churches?”  I really didn’t have an answer for him.  It seems that many of us pastor types have bought into a business model that says we are more successful if we are pastoring a large congregation.

This week, we lost an amazing member of our church.  She battled cancer for 5 years valiantly and inspired my entire congregation along the way.  I was actually in Puerto Rico when I got the news.  We had to wait a day before we could fly home.  I didn’t want to be in Puerto Rico anymore.  I wanted to be home, mourning with the family and my church family.

I am beginning to realize that there is something special about being in ministry for the long haul.  It means something to celebrate with people when their kids graduate from high school, and to mourn with them when they lose a loved one.  There is something important about being there to marry people, dedicate their children, and bury their grandparent.  There’s something about walking the journey together, taking communion together, placing ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, baptizing them, and sending some of them out as ministers of the gospel.

The picture below is a picture of some kids from my church at Tyler’s 3rd birthday party.

IMG_0803 Next summer, most of these kids will go to NYC in Louisville with our church.  Someday, I will watch them get married, and perhaps perform some of those ceremonies.  There is something very healthy about long-term pastorates.

I’ve decided that I am sticking with these people.  The church may grow, it may not.  I will preach the Word.  I will administer the sacraments.  I will laugh with these people.  I will cry with them.  But more than anything, we will go through it together.

You see, the ministry isn’t really about me.  It is about being willing to sweat and bleed for a group of people the way Christ was willing to sweat and bleed for me.  I believe our church will grow, but I will not allow a number on a page to define me.  I will be defined by the way I care for those I have been entrusted to serve!

Anything else isn’t ministry, it’s self-serving…

Just a thought,

n8

The Kind of Faith I Want…

Every once in a while, I run into someone who is not happy with the theology department at our local Nazarene University.  Usually their complaint boils down to a story about a friend or a loved one who went to school to study theology and came home not sure if they believed anything at all.  The friends and or family of these students feel like the university has failed them. I would argue that it didn’t.

I would argue that the university was doing its due diligence in training up godly pastors and leaders.

You see, long before I ever took a real theology class, (my undergrad was in chemistry) I noticed something about the faith, and scripture in particular.  I noticed that the more a person reads and studies scripture, the less they seem to know about scripture.

Sure, when a person hasn’t deeply engaged scripture, it is easy to spout off a bunch of “bible promises” or single verses that “support” our faith.  But it doesn’t take a very thorough examination of scripture to begin to come across questions. In fact, sometimes it seems like the more you study scripture, the more the questions surface.  This is what happens to the theology majors mentioned above.  They are forced to wrestle with questions they have never encountered before.  Up until that point, most of them have lived on the faith of their parents or have developed a faith of nice, easy cliches.

The longer I live, the more I am worn out by the cliches and the faith that goes along with them.  I would never want someone to pastor my congregation who had never wrestled with the tough questions of the faith.  I would hope that my pastor was still wrestling.

That’s the universities job.  To send out pastors who have been willing to wrestle.

Have you ever read the book of Joshua?  What are we supposed to do with passages that seem to indicate that Yahweh instructs Israel to wipe out entire nations of people?  What do with do with this genocide that seems to be mandated by God?  Were the writers attributing something to God that was not of God as some would suggest?  How do we handle such texts?  There are no cliches to answer these types of questions.  Do we really believe serpents talked as we are told in Genesis 3?  What do we do with talking serpents?  Sometimes different passages of scripture seem to be in direct opposition.  How do we reconcile stories that flat out seem to contradict each other? Like I said, the deeper we get into scripture, the more questions arise…

I think a lot of times we believe that our faith has to be like a fortress.  We build up our fortress with passages like John 3:16, Romans 6:23, or Philippians 4:13.  We have the little family of Christian fish on our minivans and bumper stickers that say “God answers knee mail.”  We are poised to “defend our faith.”  We don’t want to get too deep into the questions because we might not have answers, and then the armor of our faith would have a chink in it.

Have you listened to the songs on Christian radio lately?  Yeah, me either…  But today I found myself listening to a Christian station in the car, and it was like every song had the same five cliches about grace, or being set on fire, or the like.  Not a lot of REAL music.  Not much of it spoke about the messiness of our existence.

The kind of faith I want looks a lot more like Jacob than K-LOVE. (The local Christian station)  Remember Jacob?  He spent an entire night wresting with God.  He grabbed on tight and wouldn’t let go.  Jacob’s hip even got wrenched in the process, but he still wouldn’t let go until The Lord blessed him.

Today, we were talking in my Hebrew class about the actual Hebrew verb in story of Moses and the burning bush.  God says that his name is “I AM that I AM.”  The actual Hebrew verb that is used there is the verb for “I will be.”  So one way to read it would be, “I will be what I will be!”

There is no way for us to reduce God to a bunch of simple answers, catch phrases, or even “bible promises.”  God will be who God will be!

I want the kind of faith that dives into the mystery of God and holds on for dear life like Jacob as he wrestled.  I want to wrestle with questions and trust God even when there seem to be no answers.  After all, isn’t faith really about trusting even when we can’t see the answer?

In other words, I don’t want the faith of some sort of shallow, self-help religion.  I want to dive deep into the mystery of God.  I want to be so deep in the mystery of God that I am way in over my head. And there, in the midst of my questions, I want to place my hand in the hand of the One whose name is “I will be what I will be…”