The Intersection of Faith, Fear, Theory and Belief

My beliefs have changed drastically over the past 20 years, although the foundation for what I now believe was put in place as a kid. In between being a kid and 20 years ago, I would have claimed some of the same beliefs that I was raised on, although there was no evidence in my life that I actually believed them. I was living like hell even when I said that I believed there was a heaven.

A belief is not a belief until it is displayed in a choice. Up until the supposed belief is manifest in a decision, it is little more than a theory. It could just be culture. When decisions are made in accordance with a previously untested belief, the theory becomes fact as our trust in the belief is proven.

Whether we claim to believe in God or not, we all face problems. No matter what our stated beliefs are related to God’s love, power, goodness, sovereignty, etc., those statements will be tested in our circumstances. Then, and only then, are our theories of belief put in the fire for refining. They will either be strengthened or prove themselves to be false.

‘But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?’ (Psalm 56:3-4)

David sings of “when” he is afraid, because sometimes he is. This “man after God’s own heart” experienced fear and, at that point, his belief in God was tested. While his soul cries out all through the Psalms, the place he lands is “I trust in God . . . What can mere mortals do to me?” He lands in a submission to God’s sovereignty and eternal context.

His comfort is in the distinction between man and God; temporary and eternal. His fear is the intersection for trust and decides that God’s sovereignty and the outcomes of the eternal picture are better than anything that might happen as man, among man, in the temporary state of man.

The “promises of God” we have are eternal glory . . . AND trouble in this world. We are invited to share in the sufferings of Christ here and now, trusting that our place with Him is forever. We either trust that His wisdom and intentions are better than our preferences or not. You’ll know the answer for you in the choices that you make about Him.

Power and Glory

It seems like everything should be able to fit into a series. A nice, packaged summary of all truth related to a topic and a transition to the next thing seems reasonable. After all, one thing gets boring after a while, doesn’t it? Isn’t it best to move on just to sustain interest?

I haven’t found that to be the case. I haven’t been able to get beyond grace. I got turned upside down during a deep, personal dive into the ramifications of grace about four years ago and I’ve never recovered. I don’t want to, either.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 16-17)

Jesus came to offer us a change. A change of identity and positioning. We were welcomed as adopted children into the Father’s love by the Son. We were invited into His grace if we want to step away from the striving of the law. He would change who we are, how we see things and what increasingly would come out of us. All we have to do is agree.

The time of Jesus’ ministry on earth to the time of His return, which is increasingly imminent, is the time of grace. We are welcomed in and given His right standing (righteousness) with the Father simply by our “yes” to his invitation. It’s been going on for two thousand years and we will know when it’s time to turn the page: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

Until then we enter by His grace, finding a loving Father and a willing Comforter ready to receive us as family. From our place as family and His place within us, the stuff that will come out of us will be inviting of others into His family, as well.

The stuff coming out of us when we are communing with Him is the same thing that invited us in; it will be His grace. His grace through us invites others to commune, too. That’s a message that never ends, until it does, and we’ll know when that is by “power and glory.”

Where There is Faith, There is Hope

Things in court had not gone like I had hoping one morning and I was engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked into the present by a crying mother and a little girl. The mom had some problems with her driving record and had been driving without a license. If convicted of driving without a license, which was the third time the had been caught, it meant a mandatory ten days in jail.

When I met with her, she had her four or five-year old daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. The mother was done. She was completely worn out by her effort and failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion. I cried, too.

Somehow we connected through some reference to or evidence in faith. The lady had hope in her faith even through the challenge and discouragement of being a single mom. Based on that common ground, we prayed.

Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. We were going in to see the toughest judge in the city and the charge isn’t exactly difficult to prove. The officer has to testify about why he pulled you over and show that you don’t have a license. Court records would establish that it was the third time. Ten days in jail seemed certain and there were no apparent legal maneuvers nor any tangible hope.

Truthfully, the judge acted out of character. This judge was incredibly tough and I couldn’t have imagined anything but jail time. Against all reason or experience, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next ten days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to but the circumstances never quite gave way.

There are people every day who have situations you can’t fix, but you can agree with hope found in some common faith. Even if just a mustard seed where the judge is harsh and the law is clear, grace can break through.

The Glorious Paradox of Life and Death

I do the stuff for a living and, as a result, the life can get sucked right out of me. When you are expected to know things, say things, write things related to God, the expectation is that you are at least a pretty good guy. After all, the God stuff you are presenting is good stuff and you are an avenue for that eternal good, so you should be temporally good. It’s a trap.

I’m not a good guy and when I think that I am, the disconnect begins. When I think that I’m basically moral, religious and that I do good stuff, my self-righteousness is being fed. I am forced to consider my good stuff to justify the good guy label. That is a road with no end that gets tiresome and it leaves open a flank susceptible to attack. The flip side of my goodness is my humanness and if I’m caught in the trap of being good, then I’m insecure related to my imperfections.

Taken a step further, when I’m tending to my self-righteousness, I’m completely disconnected from the righteousness of Christ. When I’m reinforcing my own goodness, I don’t need His grace. I’ve got it covered, after all, as I should since I’m a professional at His stuff. Ugh.

It’s only when I can embrace my depravity that I value His grace. When I value His grace, I can connect with Him. When I connect with Him, I receive His identity. When I receive His identity, I receive His righteousness. When I receive His righteousness, I am secure. My security, then, is rooted in recognition of my depravity; it’s a glorious paradox.

My soul is sick. Always has been and always will be. Jeremiah 17:9 says my heart (soul) is desperately wicked. It literally says by definition that it is incurable. There is no hope for it; it is terminal. It has to die.

It is only when I can recognize my incurable sickness that I can decide to go ahead and die. It’s only when I quit gasping for breath related to my goodness and give up that there is hope for me. The hope is not from me, but from Christ Jesus. He is my only hope. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; only Him through the dead me provides life through me, whether I do this for a living or not.

The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.

It’s Easter. So What?

It doesn’t necessarily matter, does it? The day on a calendar or even the reason for the day on the calendar are irrelevant for most people. They don’t mean a thing until and unless they mean everything. For some people, they matter so little that the step towards church on this Sunday is their only real thought of God all year. For others, they routinely go to church but seldom go to the Cross. It doesn’t matter until it costs everything.

Easter is the celebration of resurrection of Christ from the dead, but many people know that. What they don’t know is why that matters to them. The religious nod in the cultural tradition actually reinforces the question for non-believers of “so, what?”

“That’s it? That’s all you got? A nice building, shiny people, a few songs and a story? Why should I care?”

There is nothing nice or shiny or song-ey or entertaining about the resurrection. Resurrection is the power of glory on display in the King of Kings to be made available to all of us . . . if.

If we’ll follow Him to the cross. If we will die to us and receive His life as ours. If we’re willing to give up everything and be hated by the world and be persecuted by church people and non-church people alike. That’s when it matters. When we are done with us and willing to make it all that matters. The love of the Father calls to us and His love is all-in for us . . . it is an all-in relationship.

The death of Jesus is our invitation into His glory but it costs us the death of our soul for the glory of His Spirit. We don’t believe until we give up and we won’t give up as long as we think we have a better alternative. For as long as our comfort, ability, compromise, religion, preferences, expectations and offenses else keep us from laying down our life, His death is not a compelling invitation. If His death is not inviting, then the glory of His resurrection is not attainable. There’s only one glory at a time; the glory of God or the glory of me.

I hope the churches are full today and I hope people decide that the story they hear matters to them personally. I hope that hope is better than control for people who go to church the other Sundays as well as the one time a year check-ins. I hope glory is birthed from people laying down their lives and that it matters more than it ever has.