Jerusalem is a strange city. It's a tourist city. It's a violent city. It's a religious city.
You can hear the ancient church bells chime on Sunday morning, watch the processional of orthodox Jews heading to prayer Friday evening, and there's no way of missing the Muslim call to prayer each night. Nope. I found there's literally no way to miss that (even with headphones).
Jerusalem is the religious capital of the world and home to the roots of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It's either a setup for a great "3 guys walk into a bar" joke or a recipe for tension and violence. If you guessed the latter, you'd be right (although I'd like to hear any jokes you have on the subject).
Jerusalem is once again making headlines. The U.S. Embassy is moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, declaring it to be the capital of Israel. Now, politically, this whole situation is much like that ball of Christmas lights you were so sure you'd put away carefully, but took you two hours to unravel. This will take much more than two hours to unravel and I don't believe recent events have helped.
Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly support the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Many believe it to be part of God's plan to restore the land to the Jewish people, rebuild the Temple where the Al-Aqsa Mosque currently sits, then physically return to rule the world. If that's where you sit with things, then no brief blog will likely change your thinking.
My question isn't whether or not you have proof texts to support your view. My question is whether or not you've considered what this would mean for the people currently living in the region. This conflict has been raging for 70 years now. People on both sides have lost loved ones. I've visited a few of their widows and walked past their memorials. I've had stones whirl over my head and I've watched the bullying at checkpoints. I've seen peaceful demonstrations turn violent. I've heard the wisdom of the aged and seen the wild-eyed youth on both sides.
Christians often appeal to the Psalmist's plea to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem". Good idea. Praying for its peace and standing by while one side is strategically marginalized, demoralized, destroyed, and removed are incompatible, in my opinion. That's not a path to peace.
Even if you appeal to the original invasion of Canaan, you can't tell me that the Israeli takeover brought peace in the region. Uh, read Judges. And the rest of the Old Testament. You won't find it in the New Testament either. Yes, the Israelites gained control of the land, but there was certainly no lasting peace. The savvy response is "that's because they didn't utterly destroy every last man, woman, child, and beast as God had commanded!" Indeed. Care to apply that to the current situation? I really, really hope not.
Yet, I've heard from more than one Christian that God's plan is indeed to remove the Palestinian population from the region (that's both Muslim and Christian-BTW!). The words "blow that mosque off the map" have even been shared with me by someone I'd otherwise respect. Folks, this just can't be the mind of Christ!
Christ's mind, as I've heard it expressed, is to "do to others as you would have them do to you." Now, place yourself in today's Jerusalem. You're lived there your whole life. Your family have lived there for generations. This is where you work and worship. One nation (quite secular, BTW), despite what International Law declares to be legal, have claimed ownership of this land in which you live. Another nation (quite secular, BTW), on the other side of the planet, have declared your hometown to be the new capital of the occupying nation. This move is a "step toward peace" and in the "best interest of both sides".
Is this what you would want to have done to you? I'm going to guess "no", unless you're a glutton for punishment. As an evangelical Christian, I don't believe it's right to support this decision politically, theologically, or morally. It's a move backwards. Away from the mind of Christ. We should know better because Jesus has taught us better. There is a new way to live.
We now do to others as we would have them do to us. What would you have done to you if you were a Palestinian in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza? Would you want justice? Would you want to be heard? Would you want people in a far away land making decisions about the place where you live?
I'm asking you to think and act compassionately. If your theology or political beliefs won't allow you to think and act with compassion, then ditch 'em. Seek the mind of Christ on the matter.
Baby, it's cold outside. One of my least favorite Christmas tunes, for the record. It doesn't matter which cute gal and old coot they get to sing it. It's lame. But that's not why I'm writing this blog.
Here in the PNW, it's getting cold outside. In fact, you'll find it's even cold inside unless you've got a heater or wood stove going. Anything less than 64 degrees and I'm headed for the thermostat.
It's a time of year when many of us have the same thought run through our heads. "I wonder what I'll get for Christmas?" No! Not that thought. The other one. "I can't imagine being homeless in this weather."
How many times has that thought come across my mind over the years? Too many to count. In recent years, I've followed that thought with "I wonder what can be done about it?"
Well, I've just recently found there's some really good news about that!
A small group of people from our community have been meeting together and planning a "Warming Center" for our town. It's just what it sounds like. A place to get warm. I'll spare you the legal talk, but there are reasons why it's not considered a "shelter". So, it does not offer beds to sleep in. But...it will offer hot soup and coffee (provided by Sequim Food Bank). It will offer a place to sit (people are welcome to sleep sitting in a chair though!). It will offer a TV and computer access. It will offer a place for families to gather and stay safe. It will offer resources (Serenity House) for job hunting and homes. It will offer an opportunity for people to find a warm shelter from the cold.
The Warming Center will be run mostly by volunteers. Churches are already grabbing a week at a time to help out. The hours will be 8pm-8am (divided into three 4-hour shifts) and the center will only be open nights when temperatures drop around freezing (someone knows how that will work exactly, but it's not me). So, that means volunteers will know the week they're volunteering, but they will be "on call" depending on the weather.
So, baby, it's cold outside. But that doesn't mean people have to be subjected to the dangers and misery of cold weather. There is now a place to get warm. A place to be safe. And an opportunity for us to show we care.
Interested? Let me know.
I am in need of correction. There it is. Finally, something you can all agree with me about!
Okay, okay. Let me explain that. I'm not referring to any specific correction right now, whether it be in my teaching, parenting, relational skills, or morality. I need correction, generally. I need correction in all those things. Specifically, I need God to bring correction in my life.
Imagine the Christian life without God's correction. Imagine coming to Him "as we are", then being left like that forever. The failure you were before is the failure you'll always be. Well, that's not very encouraging. I want to be different than how He found me! I want to be like Him. I want to treat people well. I want to have a good attitude. I want to be patient and loving and merciful and...much more like Jesus than I am today. I need help. I need guidance. I need correction.
We have two dogs. They're good-sized and spend much of their time outside. We have an invisible fence that keeps them from leaving the yard. It works quite well for them (and us). Basically, that means they spend a lot of time patrolling the borders and barking at people, animals, and cars that they can't get to. It's beyond annoying.
So, we bought them bark collars that are controlled by a remote. When they bark, we have the option to send a warning "beep", a buzz, or a moderate shock. Once they're trained, a beep is usually all they need. The goal isn't to punish them for barking. The goal is to train them to stop. If it proves ineffective, we'll look for another solution. But the goal isn't so that I feel better because I get to give them a "zap" when they annoy me. That's punishment and it's not to benefit anyone but me.
Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
The correction (discipline) God uses is meant to bring about change. It produces something good. That's the point of the correction. Restorative. This is something different than punishment.
I need correction in my life, not punishment. So do you (btw). Do we understand the difference? One is meant to help us. The other doesn't help us at all.
Peter denied Christ, stuck around, and received correction. He became more like Jesus afterward. I believe this is God's method. Restorative correction.
In the Old Testament (Oh yes! Most certainly also found in the OT), we find God working the same way. Even in what seems like a torrent of violent judgments pronounced on various nations and groups, there is a plan to restore. Look at what He says about a doomed Egypt in Isaiah 19:22. And the Lord will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the Lord, and He will be entreated by them and heal them. Strike? Yes. Heal? Yes! Strike, then heal. The goal is to bring correction to Egypt, not simply to destroy them. This is the way God works.
Stop. Take that in.
Did you take that in? No? Then go back and take that in my friend. We're getting to know God here.
I discipline my children with hopes to bring about a change in their behavior and/or attitude (Pr. 22:15). The Book of Hebrews tells us that God works the same way with us. I suggest that the whole concept of loving correction has come to us by God. They (earthly fathers) disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. (Heb. 12:10) Disciplines us for our good. Our good. Not so that He feels better about it, but so that we are better for it. God is good.
Stop. Take that in too.
Violence. It's rampant. Like a plague.
Another mass shooting. Another van drives into pedestrians. Another bomb. Another case of domestic abuse. Another knife attack. Another war.
We rightly grieve for lost lives and damaged families due to violence. Some grieve the mental health issues that often play a role in violence. Some grieve the ease at which 27 people can be shot to death by one legally or illegally acquired weapon. Some say fewer guns will reduce the violence. Others say more guns are needed to reduce the violence. We grieve that public gatherings like movies, concerts, and church services aren't safe from violence. We grieve that nations are developing weapons (uh...to keep up with ours) with plans for violence. We grieve terrorist acts of violence. We grieve the violence out there.
Out there. That's where the violence is and that's where the problem is. His violence. Her violence. Their violence. We're waiting (and waiting) for people to stop their violence. What if we were to instead begin to deal with our violence?
Oh, I know.
Even in writing a blog about grieving our own violence, I caught myself desiring to influence others to renounce their violence. Let me start with my own violence.
I don't see myself as a violent man. I've never had an interest in hunting or blowing things up. I'm not bothered with shooting aliens for points. I don't glory in imagining myself shooting an intruder. I gave up watching gory movies years ago. So, call me a wuss. I'll gladly arm wrestle you for the title of biggest wuss, if you'd like.
Speaking of wrestling, I've always entertained myself with the violence of professional wrestling. Sure, I don't watch it anymore, but I did introduce the old stuff to my kids a few years back. I figured, if they can't reference Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3, then I fear they may truly come across as weird home-schooled kids when they socialize with others. Anyway, we've watched a few wrestling matches on YouTube and the boys have really enjoyed it. We usually follow it up with some wrestling of our own out on the trampoline. Seems innocent enough.
Well, it looks like I crossed the line. No, it wasn't that I gave one of them a pile driver and hurt them. I showed them a classic match that proved to be too much for them. Mankind vs. Undertaker. Yeah, for those in the know, it was that match. Mankind is thrown off the top of a cage onto a table. Kersplat! Then, he crawls back up, only to be slammed through the top of the cage onto the mat below. A mat, for some reason, covered in thumb tacks. It's a classic.
A strange thing happened though. My boys weren't impressed. They were horrified. They weren't entertained by the idea of someone being slammed down onto a mat o' tacks. Mankind's bloodied shirt didn't inspire them. It revolted them.
Was the problem theirs or mine?
Looking back, I believe the problem was (and is) mine. They saw the violence as it was. Ugly and something to be rejected. I had bought into wrestling for so long that thumbtacks in the back was just another stunt these guys were willing to go through to keep me entertained. I'd seen my share of matches with chairs to the head and faces dragged across barbed-wire. A few thumbtacks hardly registered on my violence radar. It was off the charts for my boys.
I regret having shown them that match. I sometimes regret introducing them to wrestling at all. That being said, I hope to learn from my mistake. I don't need to increase my boys' tolerance for violence. Their rejection was appropriate. It's the mind that accepts this violence as suitable entertainment that needs sanctifying. That's me, I'm afraid.
Does violence find a home in your heart?
No? Look again. Just in case.
Sometimes it lurks behind the fact that it's not us personally who are acting violently. We just approve of it. After all, it's not you who fired a drone into a village of civilians in Pakistan. You simply voted for those who did. You didn't punch Mayweather. You just watched the fight. You didn't throw poor Mankind onto a bed of thumbtacks. You just inspired him to be willing to do that for your entertainment. You didn't kill anyone on Game of Thrones. You just kept tuning in week after week, decapitation after decapitation. And, after all, those are only pretend aliens splattering all over your screen. You're just getting pretty good at making them splatter.
How long will we defend our violence?
Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord."
Live peaceably with all men. Yes, I know."As much as depends on you", right? So, if the other person won't be peaceable, then you, most regrettably of course, "do whatcha gotta do". Here's the deal, as I see it." Live peaceably with all men" is the meat in a "whatever you do, don't do whatcha gotta do" sandwich. Repay no one evil for evil, even if they won't live peaceably with you. Do not avenge yourselves, even if they won't live peaceably with you. It's Christ's way and, therefore, the way for Christians also.
I'm learning to grieve my violence and release it to God. I don't pretend to have arrived. You should see (and hear) me when the Rototiller gives me trouble! I'm on the journey too.
But I don't think we're getting anywhere pointing fingers at the violence of others. I believe it may be more productive to reduce the violence I practice and with which I keep myself entertained. My violence is something worth fighting.
Close your eyes. Picture your bedroom as it was when you were growing up. Can you see it? I can see mine pretty clearly. It helps that I never changed the furniture around even once all those years. The bed was always against the wall. The stereo on the opposite wall. The bookshelf never moved. I liked it that way.
My mother-in-law handled her home quite differently. She switched up the living room at least once a week. It would be different every time I came over. She liked the change.
Have you moved the furniture around in your living room lately? If not, why not? If you don't, that's fine. I'm not actually here to talk about your living room. I've got something else on my mind. But before I get into that, I want to explore this furniture arranging concept a little further. What if a friend came over and remarked that your couch would work much better on the opposite wall? They noted that not only would it fit better in that space, but it would actually open up the room a bit. A much better place for the couch. Would you be open to changing it?
So let's leave your living room furniture alone for a minute and get down to business. Have you ever changed your mind about an aspect of the Christian faith? Have you ever, if you will, moved one of your theological beliefs from one side of the room to the other? Have you ever switched from one "ism" to another or dropped an "ism" only to find yourself now "ism-less"?
I'll give you an example from my own life. As a new Christian, I attended an adult Sunday School class. The teacher of that class taught us the doctrines of Calvinism. Basically, it was the idea that God chooses who He wants to save and also chooses those He wants to send to Hell. It's up to Him and His mind is already made up (before the foundations of the world). There's more to it than that, but that's enough to make my point. This is what I was taught and I didn't question it. Why not? Because it made sense. There were Scriptures that said so. The guy teaching knew more than me about the Bible and he presented it well. Without knowing it, I was a Calvinist (which is just a fine thing to be, for the record).
A few years later, my wife and I were talking about whether or not people choose God or God chooses people. Do we have free will? It was a great conversation. There's was just one problem. Her perspective was making sense to me and my beliefs were now in question for the first time. There were questions she raised that I simply hadn't thought about before. Seems funny now that I hadn't. The discussion brought up some questions for me.
For the first five years or so of my Christian walk, I was taught all kinds of stuff. We call this stuff "doctrine". I was taught to believe certain things about why Jesus died. I was taught to believe certain things about the antichrist and the rapture. I was taught certain things about Heaven and Hell. I was taught all kinds of stuff. Stuff that formed my belief system. This is what I believe. My theological furniture was set and I was pretty happy with it. (After all, it looked an awful lot like the living room arrangements of many of my closest and dearest friends)
Well, as I've journeyed with Jesus, some of those beliefs have been challenged. I've changed my mind about some of the things I was first taught.
Have you changed your mind about things you were first taught as a Christian? I'm convinced some of us are open to that and others refuse to change our minds. Sometimes, people just refuse to listen. When it comes to Christian doctrine, why is that?
A few years ago, I shared with someone how one of my long-held beliefs was being challenged. I noted that there were at least four differing views within orthodox Christianity about this belief. He had never heard of any of them and was appalled that I was even entertaining them. That's the kind of close-mindedness I'm challenging here. I mean, he wouldn't even consider any other view than the belief he'd always held to. And, I repeat, these were all orthodox views within Christianity! Why is that?
1) There's safety in the familiar. Don't rearrange the living room. I like it the way it is. I can navigate it in the dark and it works for me. Some people don't want things moved around in their theological living room.
2) If I change my view on this, won't that open me up to changing my mind about other things? Quite possibly. So, this is really connected to the last idea. There's safety in the familiar and what if we not only move the couch, but find that requires moving the coffee table also? But I only wanted to move the couch!
3) Fear. Yes, the last two barriers to an open mind are about fear also, but this aspect of fear is particular to religion and especially Christianity. We have a long history of separating the goats from the sheep. The Presbyterians are "wrong" about Calvinism. The Charismatics are "wrong" about spiritual gifts. The Baptists are "wrong" about homosexuality. The Episcopalians are "wrong" about everything. These are the kinds of judgments Christians make about each other based on doctrine. This is common practice among us and none of us want to be judged the same way. We don't want to be judged as "wrong", so we play it safe. Even if we are willing to flirt with a different view, we must keep it to ourselves, mustn't we?
4) I'm already right about everything. This room could never be improved.
I see a refusal to have our minds open to change is a barrier to spiritual growth. Don't read this the wrong way. I'm not advocating people change their minds about anything just because. But if you're confronted with a different perspective, why hide behind a mental blockade? If you've got the truth, it should be able to withstand some questioning. If you don't have the truth, then can you imagine holding on tightly to something that isn't true? The couch should have been moved and you refused to move it.
What if it's Jesus who's telling you to change your mind? What if we're like Saul of Tarsus who thought he had his theology all sorted and found himself "kicking against the goads"? What if we're holding onto beliefs because of tradition and it's Jesus who wants us to let go? Are we willing?
We all want the truth, but it simply doesn't come in a package with our baptism. The truth isn't necessarily what you were first taught in church or childhood or seminary. And if you have changed your mind about a doctrine, that doesn't mean you have the truth now either. You may change your mind again! I've decided to be open to having the furniture moved around, if need be.
Still, I'd better say this, some furniture needs to stay put. The "Jesus is Lord chair" doesn't get moved in my spiritual living room. It stays in the center of the room while couches, chairs, and tables shift around it from time to time. Does that make sense? What Christian beliefs have you changed your mind about while on this journey of faith? If nothing, why do you think that is?
***This is "Reformation Month". Did you know that? Yeah. It's a time to celebrate when Martin Luther posted his 95Theses on the door of the Catholic Church. He had thought of 95 ways they needed to move the furniture around.
What do we think now of those who refused to change their minds? Also, do you think there was and will be only one reformation in Christianity? Something else to ponder, my friends.
Look around. No, not at your house or workplace. Look around at what's going on all around us on this planet. Some of you might say, "But I don't want to!". I hear ya. This place is loco. When someone says "hurricane", we say "which one?". When someone says "mass shooting", we say "which one?". When someone says "looks like we're going to war", we say "where now?".
Easy. This isn't going to be a political rant. I want to talk about our kids. Some of us are raising kids. Kids that will inherit this crazy place. Kids that will have their own hurricanes and violence to deal with. How are we preparing them for those things? Whether we're aware of it or not, they are being prepared right now. Prepared for responding to trouble and tragedy. With open eyes and ears, they're building character that will determine how they will respond to the struggles around them. Their own and their neighbor's.
While in Palestine, I remember sitting and listening to a middle-age man tell the horror stories he'd experienced under Israeli Occupation. After sharing his tales, he made the point that he was raising his boys to be tough. Tough enough to handle tough times.
I can't pretend to have shared his experience and I don't know what his boys will face in the future. But I interpreted his perspective to be one that encouraged hard-heartedness. Callousness. The reason M&Ms won't melt in your hand. It's that thick candy shell.
I don't think the answer for our kids is to raise them to harden their hearts to endure tough times. I would encourage just the opposite. I want to teach my kids to have greater compassion. Deeper empathy. Selfless love. That's what people who have lost everything in a hurricane need. They need people who are willing to put themselves in their position for a moment, then respond with more than a shake of their head and the shedding of a tear. That moment of empathy needs to grow to fruition. It needs to become something tangible.
Reflect on those who were heroes in the recent aftermath of the hurricanes. You might even have some pictures come to mind from the media. People neck-deep in water with their arms around people who are scared to death. That's the kid I want to raise. I want to see my kid on the news as the guy that did all he could to get people to safety while bullets sprayed down from the hotel window above. I want my kid to be those who spend time with the families who have lost people to tragedy.
Here's the deal. I'm going to have to raise them to be that way. It's on me to raise my kids to have hearts that consider the plight of others and act accordingly. Quick example. Half of my kids currently spend a lot of time in Lego Land. Oh, not the theme park in California. I mean my garage. How many times am I dealing with a kid who is unwilling to share Legos? I'm not talking about going without any Legos so their brother can build something. I'm talking about going with one less piece (leaving them 700 other pieces to work with). Working through those kinds of moments are a small step in the direction of considering others. The idea is to teach them compassion, not enforce communism. They shouldn't share because someone makes them. I want them to want to share. That's not easy to teach!
What are some daily activities where you could be encouraging empathy in your kids? How much do they know about the greatest mass shooting in U.S. History that occurred just last weekend? What are their thoughts about the families left behind in the wake? If you have more mature kids, have they considered what might have been going on in the mind of the killer? It's possible the shooter had a mental illness. What will your child's attitude be toward those who struggle with a mental illness? Are they to be helped or shunned? Brought close or pushed away? That depends on the character we, as parents, help develop right now in our kids.
For my part, I've been involving my kids the last few years in my study of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. They sit and watch videos with me. Some of those are "boring talkie-talkie" videos. Those are for my older kids who can now engage in conversation about the issues. But they've also seen some pretty raw footage of Palestinian civilians being bombed in Gaza. That, admittedly, was a bit of a shocker, but it did wonders for the kids being able to empathize better with the struggle. Words like "bomb" and "civilian casualties" have a deeper meaning for them now. The people of Palestine are more like, well, people to my kids. Not a statistic, problem, or issue. They are real people my kids are learning to care about.
What touches your heart? People in poverty? People with disabilities? People affected by a disaster? People with cancer or Alzheimer's? People suffering injustice? Whatever it may be, can you begin to share your heart with your kids? Start early. Perhaps not with raw footage from bombings in Gaza (Lol), but with an age-appropriate exposure to caring for people. People besides ourselves. Caring about ourselves doesn't really need to be taught, does it? I think it just kind of happens. Raising a child who cares for people besides themselves requires intentionality on our part.
As far as I'm aware, there's no curriculum for this kind of thing. It's not taught in schools, but expected in adulthood. I confess, I feel a bit behind the curve myself and am trying to catch up. I've been intentional about looking for opportunities where I can act. Acting on that glimmer of empathy that occurs when I see the picture of a dead toddler washed up on the beach after fleeing war-torn Syria. Acting to feed the hungry in my own community that I've driven past so many times. My kids are watching. Hopefully, they will develop a character that acts compassionately toward others. Hopefully, they'll develop that much faster than I have.
I can remember getting baptized as a kid. It was a great evening. My sister and two cousins all were baptized by our uncle, who is a Baptist minister. We sang "If I Were A Butterfly", got dunked in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then enjoyed a fish fry in the fellowship hall. Good moment. Within five years, I was avoiding church whenever possible, stoned out of my mind, and holding séances in the local graveyard. "If I Were A Butterfly" no longer got any airplay on my Walkman. Jesus didn't get any of my time. No matter how hard I tried (while stoned out of my gourd) to convince my buddies that God was real, I wasn't living like He was real. I wasn't following.
Twelve years later, I got a wake-up call from Jesus saying "You say you follow Me, but you don't." That hurt. It hurt because the message came directly from Him. Not from a pastor or a friend or through a tract. The message was suddenly just there in my head. I repented and began to follow Jesus.
You may know someone who no longer goes to church. They sat with you for years making Arks of macaroni and laughing at Veggie Tales. Perhaps they were baptized. Perhaps there was a fish fry too. Something happened down the road though and they're no longer following Jesus. They no longer identify with Christ. They've turned to some other way. The money way. The family way. The Buddhist way. The Atheist way. The political way. They are on a different path now and there is something or someone other than Jesus leading the way.
People do walk away from Jesus and it's the reason a church leader wrote a letter to a group of Christians way back when (we call it The Book of Hebrews). People were leaving Jesus. They had stopped going to church meetings. They were at the potluck one week and weren't seen after that. They'd been seen singing the first century equivalent of "If I Were A Butterfly", but they weren't singing it anymore and they wouldn't hang out with those who did. It was over. They had been called away by something else.
In the case of the letter to the Hebrews, these people wanted to return to a safer way of life. Hanging out in a group of persecuted people wasn't worth it to them. People were going back to safe old Judaism. They could live with relative safety under Roman rule as orthodox Jews. They could return to the families who had cut them off when they started to follow "The Way". They could once again buy and sell in the marketplace. The grass seemed greener on the other side of the street, so they crossed over.
Currently, North American Christians don't live under these kinds of threats. We are more likely to be drawn away for other reasons. Those ways are myriad. The purpose of Hebrews isn't to cover all those possibilities. The purpose is to point us all back to Jesus and encourage us to stick with Him. Stick with The Way. Hebrews points out that there's no better option than Jesus. No angel, prophet, or priest is better. No guru, politician, or lover could be a better guide on life's journey. No one could possibly understand you better than the One who chose to become like you. We can forget these things when the lure of money or position or promise of ease tempts us. Many have also walked away for the promise of love. There are good things in this world for which people will leave Jesus. That's why Hebrews is so deliberate to point out Christ's superiority even to good things like Moses, prophets, and priests.
The author of Hebrews likens our spiritual journey to a race and encourages us to keep running. When you fall, stagger back up, wipe off your wounds, and keep running. Don't look back, but keep your eyes forward on the Author and Finisher of our faith. The One who is above all. He leads us to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Running the race requires the grace of God and the encouragement of the saints. We need both Jesus and each other in order to keep running. I hope this series in Hebrews will ground those who are drifting, strengthen those who are weakening, and encourage us all to keep running this race.
To win this race is to finish.
Do you remember that old saying "putting the cart before the horse"? It's a great image. With your cart before your horse, your cart will go nowhere. Not to mention that you may have a fairly frustrated horse to boot.
It's often important that we do things in the correct order. Pick up the potholders and then grab the pizza out of the oven. Make sure the shower water is hot and then lather up. Remove the gas cap and then start pumping gas.
Here's why I'm thinking about this. With all the faces, facts, and falsities we're confronted with day after day through the news and social media, we are tempted to do things out of order. We are tempted to make judgments about people and circumstances before 1) we've got all the information and 2) we've taken a serious look at our own garbage before making a judgment about someone else's. We put the cart before the horse and judge someone else before judging ourselves.
Jesus famously made a point about this very thing.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5
It's so easy to scroll down my news feed and make judgments about people and their circumstances. I'm actually quite amazed at how quickly I am able to make such judgments considering how fast I often scroll through. You'd think I hadn't even had the time to correctly make such a judgment. And you'd be right.
Before I judge our president to be a hypocrite or liberals to be liars or protesters to be trouble-makers or gays to have an agenda, I need to pause. Maybe a long pause. Some days, that pause could take the rest of the day. I need to pause and consider my own faults. My own shortcomings. My own hypocrisy. My own lies. My own anger and desire for revenge. My own agendas. My own self-serving motivations. Yes, I need to take the time to look at myself and in doing so, make sober judgments about my own attitudes and actions.
So, there I sit. Looking over my own sins. Lamenting having such an evil streak running through me. Asking God for forgiveness and the power to change. Once that's done, I'm likely to approach someone else's attitudes and actions with a little more humility. Only now am I ready to look at the speck in someone's eye because I've dealt with the plank sticking out of my own and wondered how I was ever able to get in and out of the car with that thing.
Before we judge the motivation behind that Facebook post or political action or even why someone's sitting in a different spot at church this week, let's put the horse before the cart and judge our own motivations and why we do what we do. It could keep us busy for awhile and I think God's just fine with that.
This is the third blog in a series about "certainty". What does it mean to be "certain"? In the first blog, I referred to Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and goats as an example of Scripture that brought up a lot of questions for me. Questions I can't find answers to that leave me "certain". Maybe it's about a final judgment and maybe it's about a local judgment on Earth. Maybe it's about the 12 disciples and maybe it's about all Jewish people and maybe it's about all people. Maybe it's about salvation by works and maybe it's about...well, salvation by works.
Lots of questions and that was just one passage. Perhaps you've never thought of that kind of stuff. Or, perhaps you have, but you're willing to "let it go". You may see letting go of those kinds of pesky questions as "faith". I'm not here to make you feel bad if that's you. Rather, I want to help those of us who can't let go of those pesky questions. Oh, and there are plenty more than that too, believe me.
Quick quiz: Who wrote the first five book of the Bible? Answer: Moses. But inquisitive minds like mine ask "Well, did Moses write the part where he dies?" (Deut. 34:5) Someone else had to write that part, if not the whole thing. Ugh. I thought I could be certain about who wrote those first five books (often referred to as the Pentateuch). That makes me start to wonder if something similar happened to any of the other books. Did Jeremiah write Jeremiah? Did Matthew write Matthew? We know someone else wrote the last chapter of Mark (the earliest manuscripts don't include it). This, of course, raises further questions like "Did God forget to inspire Mark to write an ending to his Gospel?" Or "Did God inspire an unknown scribe to finish it?" Same with Deuteronomy. How can I be certain about these kinds of things? Authorship becomes an issue for those who ask questions and have inquisitive minds. We can't rest that easy.
I've come to accept that I can't be certain. Not 100%. For some, that's really bad news. In fact, some people call it a day for Christianity right there. "It's all phony baloney!" they cry. Well, I want to spare you of making that decision.
Christians are called to follow Jesus by faith. "The just shall live by faith" said Habakkuk. Or, at least, I'm fairly sure it was him. His name is on the book title. So, what's faith?
When you get in your car, how certain are you that the brakes will work? 100%? If you actually stopped to think about it, you'd likely have to leave some room for the possibility that they could fail. So then, do you stay home? Well, if you have a reasonable confidence that they'll work, you'll get on the road. That's an act of faith and it doesn't require 100% certainty. You feel you have reason enough to act on the possibility that your brakes will work just fine.
Or how about banking? According to a digital statement I look at online, I have money in the bank. I don't see that money. I transfer money and assume it works. I pay my credit card bill online and assume it works. I have reason enough to act based on what I know about banking. Call me a "negative Nancy", but I can't be certain that my bank would never take my money. There are laws that I hope would be enforced, but that's a hope and not a certainty. I feel confident enough to continue banking though. That's faith.
Faith isn't about having 100% certainty about something. Faith is about acting despite your level of uncertainty. You can live by faith without being 100% certain about all kinds of doctrines and questions you may have about Scripture.
I don't believe God is looking for us to be certain. I do believe He's looking for us to act in faith regardless of whether or not we feel certain.
Do you have any nagging doubts about God? If you do, I understand why you may not be quick to admit it. There's a good chance you'll be wheeled in for emergency theological surgery by the elders. Or you might even find yourself outside the fellowship where you'll be given some time to "get it right". Perhaps these sound harsh, but surveys of those who have left the Church because they raised some questions and had some doubts show these responses to be pretty common.
This concerns what is often called a "faith crisis". Someone is struggling to maintain faith. They've asked some questions and not found answers that leave them "settled". Or something has happened in life that they thought wouldn't if they just "followed the rules". Perhaps they've found that Science and Scripture don't always agree and now they're struggling with their faith.
What does the Church do with people in faith crisis mode? Well, if folks are brave enough to actually admit to having doubts, we usually try to answer their questions so they can be certain again. They need to be sure. We've got to get them back on track. I mean, what's their problem anyway? Can't they see that chapter such and such, verse so and so, clearly states the answer to any doubts they may have?
Our intentions are good.
So, we set out to prove that the Earth is actually only 6,000 years old and not billions. Genesis should settle the issue (yes, the Book with a talking serpent that becomes the world's first snake). We'll show them how it clearly states that God created all things 6000 years ago. We'll make sure they understand that Science is wrong about this one. If they don't agree after that, then perhaps they can still attend, but they probably shouldn't be allowed to teach Sunday School.
Or perhaps someone is struggling with the violence of the Old Testament and the fact that God seemed to get angry quite often and would smote people for things like trying to keep precious cargo (like an Ark) from falling off the cart. The God who handled the gay agenda by burning down the ancient equivalent of San Fransisco. "Is this the same God as Jesus?", they ask. "Well, of course it is", we respond. "It's from the same Bible, don't you see?" Another faith crisis subverted. All in a day's work. If they have follow-up questions such as "Well, does that mean God has a split-personality? Is God given to His emotions like we are? Could God's ancient rage flare up at any moment?", then this is a good time to warn them of the Marcion heresy (who taught that the God of the Old Testament was a different entity than Jesus). The fear of being a heretic is sure to snap them out of their faith crisis and bury any nagging questions deep under their new skin-deep faith.
Or how about when a Christian is dealt one of life's brutal hands? Their child goes off to college and never goes back to church. Their spouse wants a divorce. They never do get healthy or wealthy. God hasn't kept them from the evils of this world. The "protective hedge around them" must have been trimmed down to something demons were easily able to hop over. They think God has abandoned them. What then? So often, this is when we do our best imitations of Job's friends and throw Scripture darts at their open wounds in order to "cure them" of their faith crisis. "God works all things for the good...Train up a child in the way...For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous..." That's it. We'll make sure they're certain that their wayward child will return to God because they trained him/her in the way they should go. We'll make sure that they know that if they are certain that they've been "called according to His purpose", that He'll be sure to work all things for the good (feel free to apply a little spiritual pressure here to free their minds of doubts). Let them know that according to Psalm 5, they must simply not be righteous enough to receive God's blessing. Crisis averted! Great job team.
Forgive the sarcastic tone, but I think we need to do better than this. It's not that we don't try. It's not that our motives are impure. I think we genuinely don't know how to handle doubt and uncertainty. We don't know what to do if it creeps into our own lives and we often mishandle it when it creeps into the lives of other Christians. So, many of us stay in the "crisis of faith closet" and keep it to ourselves. What would people think? I mean, just imagine what might happen to a pastor that admitted doubts, right? Uh...
First of all, people with questions and doubts about God are often genuine seekers of God. Don't assume they are hopeless atheist, heretics, or lesser Christians of some kind. They are not to be pitied. They are not to be shunned. They aren't even to be fixed! They are to be encouraged to keep going. Just keep swimming, as Dory wisely shared with an anxious clown fish.
Keep going after God. That's the key. Go after God Himself. It's not that we should stop asking the questions or seeking the answers. By all means, engage! But the goal is having God, not not having doubts (I felt a post like this deserved a double negative). Doubt actually feeds faith. If faith increases, it's in spite of doubt, not because there is none to begin with. Faith acts without certainty. That's what makes it faith. Otherwise, we could call it "knowing". Like what God does.
I think there's a place for doubts and questions in our journey with God. And, for the record, I don't believe the Bible answers all our questions. I don't think it's meant to. It's the Bible that actually raises most of my questions. It's often those who read their Bible in pursuit of God that have the most questions and nagging doubts. Don't stone them (though there's a verse for that). Don't hand them over to Satan (though there's a verse for that too). Love them in their uncertainty. Love them enough to honor the mind God has given them. They're engaging God. Encourage that. Point them toward faith instead of certainty.
BTW, I have doubts about being right about all of this.
And so do you.
1 Jesus said some strange things. No, really. Stranger than strange. Stuff that will whack you out if you stop to think about it. If you stop to think.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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