On Faith and Doubt

I’ve shared a couple of times in recent weeks that God has asked me to have faith for some things that seem highly improbable. In a number of verses in the Bible (James 1:6-7, for example), it says to ask in faith, without doubt, and you will have what you ask for. I have been doing my best to live up to those instructions.

However, it seems no matter how hard I try, little questions often sneak into my mind. “Did God really promise…? What if you got it wrong? Do you seriously believe God can/will do THAT? For YOU?” Each time these thoughts come, they bring guilt and condemnation with them. The one thing God has asked me to do is to believe without doubting, and I can’t even get that right!

This past Sunday at church, we had a guest speaker. There were a lot of great points in the sermon, but one thing has been stuck in my mind for the past three days. He made the comment that faith is not the absence of doubts, but confidence in the face of them. He went on to say that uncertainty of the outcome of a given situation is what makes faith possible. If we were completely certain that what we hope for would happen, there would be no need for faith.

What a freeing thought! I am not a failure because questions come to mind on occasion. I only fail to have faith if I entertain those questions and dwell on them. If I give them more room in my mind than I give to the confidence that God “will accomplish what concerns me,” then I give in to doubt.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence and assurance in the face of uncertainty. We don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises yet, and it is normal that questions will arise. Every person mentioned in Hebrews 11 – the “Hall of Faith” – asked God questions on numerous occasions. Questions don’t equal sin or disqualify us from receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Some teachers might tell you that if you only had enough faith, life would be easy and God would have answered your prayers by now. That is a load of rubbish. God never promised an easy life to anyone who chose to follow Him. In fact, in many cases, it was the opposite. What He did promise was that He would be with us, that He would never stop loving us, and that His words are true no matter what! (There are many other promises in His Word, so go read the Bible to find more.)

Whatever it is you’re hoping and praying for today, have faith. Don’t choose to live with the doubts that try to fill your mind. Acknowledge them, remind them of the awesome power of the God Who loves you, and send them on their way.

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“Foolish” Wisdom

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27, ESV).

This verse is on my mind today because a number of things in my life seem “foolish” by worldly standards right now. Hoping against hope to see dreams and promises of God fulfilled despite no visible sign that they will ever become reality – no doubt, no back-up plan, just belief and trust. Feeling I should stay silent in a situation where everything in me wants to speak up. Raising money to publish a book that may not sell many copies, and perhaps even choosing a more expensive publishing package than others that are available because I feel like God is directing me that way. Even writing a book about discovering and walking in our God-given identity and purpose seemed foolish because I still struggle so often with that very idea.

All of these things seem crazy – and maybe even downright foolish! – when I look at them with my own perspective. My own “wisdom” tells me to guard my heart and be realistic with my hopes and dreams, to speak up and fight for a valued relationship, and to find the cheapest option available for everything to ensure I’m stewarding my resources well. I suppose that’s the reason God made sure that Proverbs 3:5-6 was included in the scriptures:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV).

I don’t understand God’s thought process. I don’t know exactly how any of these situations will work out. I don’t have a clue why He is leading in the way He is. My job isn’t to understand; it is to hear His voice, trust, and obey. As I seek first His Kingdom and do what I believe He is asking me to do, He will take care of the things that I can’t change or even understand.

Do you have areas in your life where God is asking you to take a step that seems foolish to you and all of those around you? Are you holding back your obedience until you understand His reasoning for such a request? Are the voices around you telling you there must be another way?

Today is a good day to choose God’s kind of foolishness. Decide today that no matter what anyone else thinks, or even what you think, you will take a step of faith. Let’s allow God to use our “foolishness” to show His wisdom today, even when we don’t understand yet!

Jeremiah & The Rings of Akhaten

If you’re a Whovian, you may have recognized the Doctor Who reference in the title. If you’re familiar with the Bible, you probably noticed an Old Testament prophet as well. If you knew both, I’m guessing we would be good friends. If you didn’t recognize either, no worries; I’ll introduce you. 😉

A ministry leader told me once that when you’re praying for a word from the Lord, Jeremiah is one of a few books from which you don’t necessarily want to get a reference. I don’t remember the others, but I think Isaiah and Revelation may have also been on the list.

The reason, he said, is that there is a good chance it’s not going to be an encouraging word. As I’ve made my way through the first 1/3 of the book this week, I can tell you that there is a lot of uncomfortable stuff in there. Uncomfortable though it may be, I’m learning a lot, and being challenged. – Don’t be surprised if Jeremiah shows up in other posts during the next few weeks.

Before I share the bit of Jeremiah’s book that pertains to this particular post, allow me to explain where the Doctor comes into the picture…

Doctor Who returned to television with new episodes last week, so of course, the Whovian in me felt the need to review a bit after the 8-month hiatus. During the last couple of weeks, I have watched most of the previous season’s episodes, and an episode called “The Rings of Akhaten” has planted itself firmly in my mind for some reason.

I wasn’t terribly wowed by the episode when it first aired, but over the past year it has become one that I go back to on occasion. I’m guessing one reason for this is that music is a major part of the story, and I love music. Two of the songs from the episode have been on repeat in my head for days now. Here is a little taste of the episode.

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If you are not a Doctor Who fan, you’re likely confused. That’s okay. I’m not going to waste time trying to explain it, not because you (and the Doctor) aren’t worth it, but because you would still be confused after any explanation I could offer and the particulars of the show aren’t important to this post.

The important stuff to note is that the Doctor and his traveling companion have come to this planet for this festival that occurs every millennia or so. The inhabitants of the seven planets orbiting their sun, believe a golden temple on one of the planets is the place where all life in the universe originated, and they worship a god they believe to be housed in the temple.

The currency used on the planet is objects that hold meaning to the owner. The more sentimental value an object holds, the more value it has as currency. The same goes for the objects the residents were offering to “Grandfather” or the “old god”.

The inhabitants of this particular star system offer these gifts to this “god” to keep him asleep. He feeds off of the stories and memories of others, and it is important to keep him asleep lest he devour the souls of the entire system. Apparently, it is inevitable that, should “Grandfather” wake, it will always be on the wrong side of the bed.

The girl offering the song is the “Queen of Years”, the vessel of her land’s history. She knows every song, poem, legend, and chronicle of her people. The thing she doesn’t seem to know is that she is, in fact, a sacrifice to the old god so that he will go back to sleep after he wakes. Because she knows the whole history of the culture that serves this “god”, she will slake his appetite for the memories and lives of others and prevent a feeding frenzy on thousands of others.

The thing that struck me as I was watching this story again last night, and then reading Jeremiah this morning, was the simple truth that there is none like God. In Jeremiah 10: 1-16 a clear case is made for the fact that idols cannot compare with God.

6 There is none like You, O Lord;
You are great, and great is Your name in might.
Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
Indeed it is Your due!
For among all the wise men of the nations
And in all their kingdoms,
There is none like You. Jeremiah 10:6-7 (NASB)

As I watched the story of this ravenous “god” who was really nothing more than a parasite, feeding off of the lives of others, I realized again how thankful I am for a loving God. I found it interesting that they used “Grandfather” as a name for the “old god”. Whether the writers meant to relate in some way to God being our Father, I don’t know, but the imagery connected in my mind. The difference being that instead of sacrificing a young girl to appease the being into staying asleep, Christians rejoice in the fact that our Father never sleeps. He is always watching out for us.

It also struck me that the people were offering things of value to them to appease this “god”, in fear of the wrath that would awaken if they didn’t. I don’t know about you, but that reminds me of nearly every world religion, every false god that is served on this planet. I am so grateful that I serve a God who gives me life instead of taking it. I serve Him, and yes, offer my life to Him, but it is out of love and gratitude instead of fear. I think of the people in India trying to assuage 300,000,000 gods, or those in Africa trying to satisfy the spirits, the people in China feeding their ancestors, or even the people here in the British Isles leaving money and other offerings for the spirits of those long dead or of the rivers, trees, or rocks.

SPOILERS… In the end, “Grandfather” is defeated by a story – a story of love, the infinite potential of a life ended too soon , and what might have been. I also know a story that can defeat every false god, whether a fictional parasitic planet, or an idol made of wood or metal, or an ideology that is a perversion of the true God. It is the story of the true source of all life in the universe, of Love, a life sacrificed for all, and a resurrection to abundant life given to anyone who will accept it.

Yes, Jeremiah is rather discouraging at times. At times, the God who is speaking the words contained there even sounds more like “Grandfather” – a vengeful God of wrath, than a loving Father longing for His children to come home. Yet in this same book, we find words of love and reassurance that He has good plans, “plans to prosper and not to harm” (Jeremiah 29:11-14), that He has loved us “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), that He will answer us and speak great and mighty things (Jeremiah 33:3).

This is the God I serve. He is jealous, not to steal our lives, but to be included in them. He wants relationship with us. He wants to consume us, not to feed off of us, but because it is in Him that we live, move and have our being. In Him is the only place that we can be fully alive.

Too many people are going through life trying so hard to follow the rules closely enough that they won’t awaken the wrath of God. I pray that my life will be an example of the freedom and life that comes from offering my story fully to the Father. He is Love; He is Life itself.

Living A Blessed Life?

I have seen many things in the last month about 2014 being a year of blessing, and I’m all for that. It has, however, gotten me thinking about what it really means to be blessed.

I’ve heard quite a lot of people over the years that seem to have this idea that God will “bless” those who are following Him or have enough faith or…. fill in the blank. The blessings they speak of often have much to do with material possessions, happy relationships – the American dream and the perfect life it represents.

I realize that Jesus said if we have faith, we will receive what we pray for, but I’m not sure He meant that verse to be turned into a theology I have come to know as “blab it, grab it” or “name it, claim it”. (Along that line of thought, I have a friend, born with a disability, who is in a wheelchair because of it. She has been told by this camp that if she had enough faith, she wouldn’t be stuck in that chair. Not only is that an extremely judgmental statement, but it simply isn’t true.)

Enough about that though, let’s get back to the idea of blessings. My question is: Who gets to decide what blessings look like? The same question applies to the “good” referred to in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose.”

My guess would be that since God is the one working through things and giving the blessings, it is His definition that counts. So, how does He define blessing? Let’s check out Matthew 5: 3-12:
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”

Looking at some of those “blessings”, I’m not sure I would use that word to describe them. In fact, as much as I desire to be the kind of person that would welcome each of those attributes in my life, I’m much more likely to avoid them.

The idea that living a life full of blessings means that trouble never visits is ludicrous in my mind. It also has the potential to be detrimental to the children of God and those desperately seeking the love He can give.

Imagine becoming a follower of Christ and believing that life will now be grand. When tragedy strikes, there are two options to explain it. The first is to believe that they were somehow not enough – didn’t have enough faith, didn’t do enough of _______, or were deficient in some other way. Basically, they failed to earn the answer to their cries,  and therefore they brought the pain or sorrow on themselves. The alternative is to doubt God’s character. After all, if they were living in faith and something bad still happened, then God didn’t keep His “promise” that He would bless their life in the way they were led to believe He would.

The fact is, we live in a fallen world, and bad things happen. Sometimes we bring them about, and sometimes we don’t. I’m fairly certain that God never causes them, but He does use them for our good – according to HIS definition, of course. In fact, some of the most difficult times in my life are the ones I now look back on in wonder at how much I grew and the things I learned.

So, as you face difficulties, take a moment to realize that God will use those circumstance to draw you to Him, to bring growth and good if you will let Him. It may even be a blessing in disguise, or a blessing according to His definition, not yours. Don’t beat yourself up that you “don’t have enough faith” to fix it. Pray, knock, ask, and let Him answer in the way He knows is best.

In the same way, as you walk alongside others in their journey of faith, encourage those who are facing their own struggles. Don’t bring judgment, as Job’s friends did, but build them up.

I do pray that 2014 is a year of blessing in my life and the lives of those I love, but I am aware of the fact that the blessing may not present itself in the way that I expect or hope. I still choose to trust and walk in faith whatever it brings.

Stories & Fandoms

Last night was awesome! Hanging out with my roommates, a delicious dinner of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, & bread, Tollhouse pie with ice cream, “sonic screwdrivers”, and BBC America airing “The Day of the Doctor” and other shows… (A huge “thank you” goes to my parents for letting us crash at their house and use their cable television to experience this worldwide event!)

As I looked at Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and even the increase in traffic on this blog today, I realized again just how fun it is to be part of a “fandom” – a global community united around a common interest. In the case of us Whovians, we may disagree about favorite Doctors and companions, whether Rose or River is really the Doctor’s true love, and which of the monsters is the creepiest, but we are all still Whovians. We remain part of the global community, and we are at least a little invested in the story. (Perhaps some of us more than others.) Many of us are passionate about our love for the Doctor and want to share his story with others every chance we get, (and there is a great sense of victory when we manage to bring another person into the fandom).

This isn’t limited to Whovians either. Others fandoms are built around the stories of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Sherlock, Narnia, Merlin, Atlantis, the Hunger Games, etc. (There are many others, but these are a few of the ones I am currently a part of…)
There is another fandom, though, that I am a part of, and yet too often I lack the excitement about it that I feel for the others. I get swept up in these epic tales and forget that the reason I love them so much is that they speak to me of His story (and my part in it). The most epic story of all is that of God and His love for us. Everything the human heart longs for – beauty, adventure, romance, significance, and much more – can be found in that story!

Yesterday, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of a television show, making news globally in celebration of a fictional story (albeit a great one). I began to wonder this afternoon how many people would tune in to a global simulcast celebrating the 2000+ year old story of Christ. Christendom is in many ways a fandom. We may disagree about details here and there, but we are all still a part of a global family united by this story that began before time did – the story of the true Lord of time. 🙂

The question I am asking myself today is: why don’t I anticipate the next “episode” of His story the way I anticipated “The Day of the Doctor” over the last 6 months? Do I get as excited when I see God doing something in a neighbor’s life as I do about seeing a new adventure involving the Doctor? Do I try to share my passion for the object of my beliefs as enthusiastically as I share quotes or stories from a favorite episode of Merlin or Atlantis? Do I feel the thrill of gaining a new brother or sister in Christ as much as I enjoy bringing someone into a fandom centered on a fictional story?

Stories….  They awaken dreams, fears and courage; they bring together people from every culture, generation, class, race, etc. Some of them give meaning to events in our lives in a way that nothing else can. They draw us in, teach us, touch us, and move us.  For me, the true power of stories is captured in a quote from G. K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten,” – as quoted in Coraline (2004) by Neil Gaiman.

What might happen in the world if we began to share our stories with each other, as passionately as we share our favorite episodes? I know that “dragons” can be beaten because I have seen God defeat the dragons of insignificance, inferiority, and worthlessness in my own life. How might the world be different if others in this global family began to believe those same dragons could be defeated in their lives? How many new members would join the “fandom” of Christ if they connected to that story and realized the truth it contains?

I am, and always will be, a fan of Doctor Who (among many other things). But first and foremost, I am a fan and follower of Christ, one who strives to be a part of His family around the world. His story is the source of all of the truth we find in the other stories we love. We love them, because whether we realize it or not, they point to him! His story is the one that includes each of us, and our stories have meaning, beauty, adventure, and romance because of HIM. After all, “we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”