Learning to Walk Again

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

I’ve got some sort of problem with my back these days. Very difficult to get about. Sitting around is okay. Getting into a vehicle, stooping to pick something up, even jumping out of bed all really hurt. I’ve also had “frozen shoulders” for months. So many daily activities are no longer possible or only so with pain:

  • Putting on a shirt
  • Tying shoes
  • Getting a pair of socks on
  • Bending to pull something out of the cabinet
  • How about a back scratch?

I need one of those valets from Downton Abbey!

The good news here is that my shoulders are thawing and I’ve gotten some very effective medicine for my back.  I’m going to live.

This all brings up the memories of the time my wife had to spend months in rehabilitation learning how to do so many simple things all over again. She was recovering from a successful brain surgery and the necessary medication left her physically powerless to move much. It was a hard struggle that she met valiantly.

In much of our lives, it can be painful to go back and learn again how to do what is essential (and often taken-for-granted). Our spiritual self needs to be in command of the ship. When it’s crippled, the rest of our being is off balance. We’ve got to learn how to walk in the Spirit again so that all the rest of our life can line up, stand straight and move freely.

Sometimes God removes our crutches so that we can learn to depend upon him with all our strength, all of our attention, all of our devotion.

Not everything is a crutch, preventing us from walking in faith. But often, people write about these aspects of their life as being a blessing and then, because of over dependence, they become crutches and impede our transformation;

  • Our careers
  • Wealth and income
  • Possessions
  • Friendships
  • Even family

Learning to walk again in the Spirit often means that we have to turn loose of things we’ve hung on to for support – in place of God.

Sometimes it means we have to just loosen our grip – be ready to take His hand when offered or to pass on to someone else that treasure we once held so dear.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
Matthew 6:31-33

Doesn’t that sound crazy? Don’t worry about the basic necessities of life? I’ve discovered (usually the hard way) that God knows what I need better than I do. He is also ahead, in my future, arranging the journey so that my basics are always covered. When I learn how to walk in the Spirit, I can stop paying attention to my own growling stomach and pay more attention to everyone else I meet along the way.

“The greatest lesson a soul has to learn is that God, and God alone, is enough for all its needs. This is the lesson that all God’s dealings with us are meant to teach, and this is the crowning discovery of our entire Christian life. GOD IS ENOUGH!”  – Hannah Whitall Smith

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Seeing is Believing

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich

Another wonderful sermon on Sunday. We were reminded about “Doubting Thomas” who had to see in order to believe.

Faith and doubt is difficult to write about. We all believe right up until we start to doubt. Our doubts can  help us to keep a check on our faith, never taking it for granted. You can imagine the theological discussions that Thomas must have had with his fellow disciples after he declared he’d have to see to believe.   

“If you don’t have doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”― Frederick Buechner

Our doubts center on how far we should wade in. How much are we willing to risk by stepping out and living parts of our life according to our beliefs. Doubt describes this tension between risk and trust.

Poor Saint Thomas. More like all the rest of us than perhaps any other disciple. At least during this event. He had been left out of the visitation of the Risen Christ, off doing something else and had missed the glorious moment. What must he have been thinking, what could have been more important? He’d been left out of the big adventure and must have felt lonely, angry and/or even discouraged.

Maybe we spend too much time being miserable about our past mistakes. Future hopes and dreams can dull the here and now. We miss so many chances because we’re not living in the present. Thomas was literally absent. So to can we be absent from our faith and miss the very presence of Christ.

Sometimes God will come and get right in your face. Jesus certainly did that with Thomas.

 “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” – John 20:27

Thomas paid attention to his encounter and it changed his life forever. He was ready to believe.

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. – John 20:28

I’m afraid that I’ve too often been looking in the wrong direction. Too often filled up with myself. Thomas put all that aside and reached out with faith and grabbed a hold of his Savior. What about you? Are you always ready to believe?

The Christian faith is a lot like that encounter Thomas had with Jesus. It’s very “hands-on.” You can’t coast along on the faith of someone else. You can’t sit in the pew for too long and hope to make it when that 800 year flood hits. You have to get up and wade into your belief.

Thomas was challenged to stick his fingers into the very side of the Risen Christ. What must he have thought as Jesus looked him in the eye and grabbed his hand? If you are going to follow Christ, you are going to have to take some risks and even get uncomfortable. Where are those boundaries in your life?

Thomas had to see with his own eyes. He had heard the words of faith for for three years. Now it was time to put it into real practice. He just didn’t realize the time was now. Everything was moving so fast. Walking in faith is often like that, it can sneak up and suddenly challenge us to get out of the boat and step into the storm.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” – John 20:29

Are you becoming one of the blessed?

There’s nothing wrong with doubts. Jesus didn’t reject Doubting Thomas, he made a special visit to assure him. God isn’t mad because we don’t believe enough, he’s instead offering so much more, encouraging us to believe more and more each day.

For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Corinthians 5:7

It all makes me wonder, why am I not demonstrating my faith so that others have something more to see? What might walking and talking my faith produce?

  1. It would increase my own eternal health. Each time I take a step of faith, I confront my own doubts. I reassert in my heart and mind why belief is so crucial.  Putting faith into practice confronts my own weakness and lethargy of spirit.
  2. Instead of blending in all the time I could provide an alternative. I can live my life as an example to the unbelieving elements of my culture. My life choices can serve as a beacon.
  3. My walk of faith can inspire the faith of others. There are people in my path who need to be encouraged to live a life of faith. I can be like Thomas to those around me and demonstrate doubts converted into undying faith.

 

“It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

But There Are Giants in the Land!

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” ― Donald Miller

When’s the last time you came face to face with a giant? How did it make you feel? Afraid, uncertain, faithless, ready to run?

Giants come in all sorts of disguises.

  • Some rear their ugly heads, over and over, pushing back and preventing us from making important transitions to the next step.
  • There are monsters that seem to lurk very near. We believe lies about who we are and we carry around terrible and heavy baggage from the past.
  • Some giants are new and appear as we reach different passages in life like marriage, children, career, sickness and loss. They strike fear as we face our inadequacies and realize hidden dependence.

Facing big challenges is an unavoidable part of living. Children of God typically have two choices when confronted with giants – cower in fear or march headlong with that shield of faith. Where have you got your shield stored these days?

The little brother David (maybe as young as 15) said this when he marched out to face the nine-foot tall Goliath…

“You come to me carrying a sword and spear and javelin as your weapons, but I come armed with the name of the Eternal One, the Commander of heavenly armies, the True God of the armies of Israel, the One you have insulted. This very day, the Eternal One will give you into my hands.” – 1 Samuel 17:45-46 (The Voice)

In this life, there’s always going to be something in your way. It’s unrealistic to expect a life with an empty horizon. Please don’t saddle yourself with unnecessary guilt because you have to face dark monsters along your way. We all do. Just remember that when you come up against these big obstacles in your life, there’s never anything in God’s way.

David could conquer this nine-foot tall fear monger because he marched forward without looking, only believing. Go back and read his challenge again. The most important thing to remember is that the real giant that you and I face is our lack of faith. Faith is the most important building block that God uses to transform our lives.

 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” – Matthew 17:20

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” – Mark 5:34

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. – Ephesians 6:16

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. – Hebrews 11:6

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” – Matthew 14:29-31

When the young shepherd David was anointed King of Israel in a private family ceremony, the Prophet Samuel addressed the family’s concerns with this deep truth: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

God is in the business of transforming what matters eternally. He’s always at work trying to get us to believe first and see last. That nine-foot tall Goliath had the entire army of Israel trembling in fear. He looked terrifying. He went down with just a little rock from the river bed. Who would have believed it?  “For we live by believing and not by seeing.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

The army of Israel was watching with their eyes and trembling in fear. David ran headlong into the conflict with only his belief to carry him to victory. How are you going to get past your giant? God’s not really worried about Goliath. His interest is focused on what’s happening deep inside your soul. He’s looking at your heart. Look around, there are little rocks all over the place. Pick up a few and put them in plain sight so you’ll remember how easy it is to knock down that giant. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Jesus, Mark 9:23)

“It is often in our weaknesses that God’s strength is most clearly perceived, and it is often in doing something the world sees as backwards that we are taking spiritual steps forward.” –Trevin Wax

The Reconciliation

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“Go where your best prayers take you.” ― Frederick Buechner

I think what we call faith, what is our own,  is a reconciliation of two essential dimensions of our life; our lived experience and our internalized beliefs.

Our faith isn’t really a noun, it’s a verb. It’s a life-long construction process.  We fit together all that is handed down to us with the bits and pieces of our own lived experience. This faith shields us from a cruel world and an enemy out to destroy us. It makes us feel safe. It really keeps us safe.

Our lives are filled with experiences like coins in a jar. We gather formal knowledge from intentional learning (going to school, reading, watching someone else, etc.). But don’t discount the informal knowledge we gain from everyday interactions and living in the real world:

  • What about that whole menagerie of characters that we have lived and worked with during our life?
  • After those years in school and having a few jobs we start to stockpile all kinds of information about other people and about yourself.
  • Each one of us practices all those lessons and stories about God and how Christianity is supposed to be lived.

We also have beliefs that are internalized into our hearts. Beliefs about other people and the world in which we live. Some of these are from personal experiences (like the list above) but most come from our shared culture:

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going
  • Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

And of course there are our beliefs about God.

Mostly we don’t think too much about our everyday beliefs. Usually they don’t get challenged that often. Every now and then a tragedy might hit and we come face to face with taken-for-granted beliefs about “the way things are” and we see how much of a hurricane they can withstand.

As we mature and reflect, our understanding of our own experiences changes and can deepen. Our beliefs get tested and we discard those that don’t hold enough water. We cling to those that stand up over time. As time goes on and we put together more and more of our life we begin to weave a faith.

I think that’s what walking by faith means. It’s finding your way through what life hands you, your own rebellion, all the everyday experiences and building something meaningful to hang on to.

Faith is also a gift from God.

Our faith is not ours alone but great parts of it are passed on to us by significant others in our lives. Our experiences and beliefs are handed to us by others, intentionally and unintentionally. Our faith is borne up and supported during difficult times by the faith of others who come alongside us and help us travel the dark roads home.

Faith is what grows in a life that is being transformed by the work of God’s Spirit. There is a great reconciliation between our hopes and our hikes. The interaction of experience and belief brings it about. Ultimately we must walk through our faith or it’s not much use.

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.  – Colossians 2:7

Walking to Emmaus Part 5

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Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  – Luke 24:25-27

Has anything really changed? Is it still just as difficult to walk in faith today?  Has our generation really grown up that much more than those two standing in that dirt road listening to a stranger explain it all?

That discouraged couple represents us all. Maybe that’s why Jesus came back and made sure he caught them before they got home. He’s acting like the father of that prodigal son or the shepherd searching for that one lost lamb. He’s caught them as they move in the wrong direction and he challenges their lack of faith. They seem to know the truth, but because they’re in retreat, they don’t believe the truth.

Jesus takes them to an “A-Ha!” moment of belief. It sounds like they knew their Scriptures. He helped them to connect the dots. He showed them where the story was leading. Later in this account they tell each other that their hearts were on fire as he taught them. Their faith was ignited as all the pieces of knowledge and their own experiences came together.

Right now the Holy Spirit resides in all believers to do this same thing. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26).

At this point in the story, I’m left with some big questions

  1. Why couldn’t these two remember all those lessons they had learned while growing up? Sometimes I wonder if what I’m learning is getting filed away as just “interesting information” and not real truth that I should be living out loud. Are your beliefs all tucked away, safe for a rainy day, folded up neatly in that Bible, never once to see the light of day (or heat of battle)?
  2. What did these two eyewitnesses do with the Jesus they had just seen and heard – maybe even watched die on the cross? It’s usually safer to just walk away and not say or do anything. I mind my own business too often or worse I mind other people’s business way too much. It’s safer to play by the rules. It’s risky to love, to turn the other cheek, to give up, to sacrifice, to become invisible and die. Are you living a life that’s in retreat?

 

“Why would we need to experience the Comforter if our lives are already comfortable?” 
– Francis Chan