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…”

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The Cumulative Effect…

Life is short…

They grow up way too fast…

Ever hear one of these phrases?  Yeah, me too.  It was always the “older folks” who used to say them to me when I was twenty.  You know the older folks right.  Those people over 40…

It seems that now I am one of those “older folks”, and I hear myself spouting off those same cliches to people in their 20’s.  Ahh, the circle of life.

I think if there is one thing that I am striving to learn in my life, it is the cumulative effect.  Things add up.  Over the span of our lifetime, little decisions can have drastic consequences.

I woke up this year at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been.  It was crazy.    Things accumulated, right around my waistline.  It was like one day I was running the Tough Mudder and in the best shape of my life and the next day I was buying the largest size waist band I have ever worn.  The truth is, it didn’t happen overnight.  Every decision to pop open a can of coca-cola, or open a bag of peanut butter M&M’s added up.

When I think about it, I ran the Tough Mudder 2 1/2 years ago.  Thats about 900 days.  Many of the days I said no to exercise and yes to all kinds of wonderful comfort foods.  It all added up to where I found myself two weeks ago.

Or take writing for example.  I enjoy writing, and I want to become a better writer.  I hope to live a nice, long life.  What would happen if I chose to write SOMETHING every day for the rest of my life.  So many days, I choose to watch someone else’s writing through a TV show or movie instead of writing something myself.  And a lot of that writing really stinks actually…

We can apply this cumulative effect to a great number of areas of our life.  For example, our spiritual disciplines can also be chosen or neglected.  We may look up a few years down the road and wonder how our heart grew hard towards the things of God.  It probably didn’t happen overnight.  We choose DAILY if we will allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s grace.

The beautiful thing is that the cumulative effect works both ways.  Our good decisions add up too.  Almost 2 weeks ago I started eating differently and I am already seeing results.  I know that if it took years to put those pounds on, it will take a long time to take them off, but every choice to drink water instead of soda adds up.  If I want to be a better writer, I can choose to write TODAY and see how my writing develops in the next 40 years of my life.  If I want to be in tune with God’s Spirit, I can choose to seek God TODAY.

Every little bit adds up.  A little each day changes us dramatically over time.

My boys are both in high school now.  Every person I have talked to has warned me HOW FAST high school goes by for your kids.  I’m sure that is true.  I pray that I will make small decisions each day as a dad so that when this season of my life is over, I see how the little things have accumulated and I have no regrets…

Just a thought,

n8

More than just great plans…

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…”

Jeremiah 29:11…  It is a great verse.  It does tell us something about God.  But it is part of something bigger.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

The first thing I notice is that Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t written to me specifically.  It was a message for Israel.  It was a message of hope that exile would not be the end for Israel.  Even after their time in Babylon, God had good plans.

I think there is definitely something that transfers to our day from this scripture.  Namely, God has our best interest in mind.  He loves us.  His plans for our lives are good.

In fact, his plans are better than the American Dream.  Sometimes it seems like the things that we want from God are eerily similar to the aforementioned American Dream.  We use this verse to assure ourselves that God will bring all those good things into our lives.

But what if God is wanting to give us more than just good things?

It seems that very few people continue on to verse 12- 14 – “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…”

What if the better thing than good plans and blessings is to find God Himself?

I know it can make us antsy when we talk about finding God when we are seeking God with all our heart.  It can almost feel like OUR effort is what is making the difference.  We know that life in God is a life of grace.  We know that God seeks us, we don’t seek him.

But I wonder if there is a principle of seeking and finding here.  Could it be that when we seek God, we put ourselves in a position to hear and respond to God?  Could it be that God has been seeking us all along, but we were just oblivious?

I have been to 25 years worth of youth camps.  One thing that amazes me is that God always seems to show up at youth camp.  Could it be that when we set aside a week dedicated to hearing God, when we put away the cell phones and PS4’s and all the other distractions, we actually are able to hear and respond to the God who has been seeking us all along?

But when we seek God half-heartedly, when we live distracted and running from one place to the next, God seems strangely absent.  I think this is what it means to seek God and find God when we seek with all our hearts.

So the next time you hear someone quote Jeremiah 29:11, remember God has something much better than plans for you…

God wants to give you Himself!

Just a thought,

Nate