Tag Archives: faith

God’s Love Doesn’t Negate the Possibility of Suffering

I’m currently teaching my way through the book of Mark in the New Testament  at my church. I want to pass along something about God’s love that many people seem to miss.

When Jesus was baptized, his Father revealed a big part of his heart by what he said. If I  had to imagine what God might say to Jesus in that moment, it would be something like, “I have called you to save the world. It will require all that you have, but I send you forth!” That’s a very functional message and it shows a bit of who I am: task oriented.

But to the contrary, Jesus’ Father wasn’t task oriented at all. He was very relational and affirming, saying:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 

Can God’s Love Allow Suffering?

What’s striking to me is what follows:

 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:12,13

​God immediately put Jesus in a place of suffering, isolation, and temptation. The mention of the wild animals just added to the scary and unpredictable nature of being in the wilderness.

It’s hard for many people to grasp that God allows suffering. In their mind, suffering negates the possibility of God’s love for them. They are convinced that if God loves them he will never allow them to suffer. When bad things happen they are quick to question and doubt God’s love, if not his very existence. Their faith rises and falls on their circumstances. They feel close to God when things are good. They feel far from God when things are bad.

​What we have to remember is that we live in a broken world. Someday God will set all things right. He will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. There will be no more death or sickness. All suffering will cease. Until then, his only promise is to be WITH US in our suffering, not rescue us from all suffering.

God’s Love Does Not Guarantee We Will Not Suffer

When Jesus walked the earth his healings and miracles were not guarantees that all believers would experience these things on earth. They were only a promise of the hope Jesus offered his believers who followed him to the end of time. His miracles were a snapshot of heaven to come.

It’s in these hard times that we see the reality of God the most. God wants to prove his faithfulness to us and have us prove to ourselves that, with his help, we can face anything.

Notice how the text above ends by saying that angels attended Jesus. That means they served him or supported him during his temptations so he could overcome the temptations.

It’s in these hard times that we see the reality of God the most. God wants to prove his faithfulness to us and have us prove to ourselves that, with his help, we can face anything.

If you are going through a hard time, trust that Jesus is with you to comfort you, guide you, and sustain you through it. He has even sent his angels to support you. ​

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Choosing to Not Give Up On Church or God

Keeping faith is not always easy. There are plenty of reasons to give up on church and God. I’m currently reading a variety of history books that sadly tell the story of a corrupt and hypocritical church. I’ve struggled thinking that this is part of my spiritual heritage.

When Church Hurts More Than it Heals…

I didn’t set out to read about the church. I love history and I just followed a variety of interests I have:

  • I’m headed to Mexico City in a few months and so I am reading La Capital, a history of Mexico City.
  • Our church supports a medical clinic in the Republic of Congo and so I picked up a book on the history of Congo (Congo: the Epic History)
  • Someone mentioned that The Poisonwood Bible was a good read so I put it on backorder at my library. I had no idea what it was about. But it came in the other day and, coincidentally, it tells of a missionary family who travelled to Congo in the 60’s.
  • I have some German ancestry and so I started listening to the historical fiction book: The Castle of Kings that relates the history of Germany in the 1500’s.
  • On the other side of my family I have pietist English pastors. In doing a little research I came to learn that one of them was linked to the Salem witch trials That led me to read a book chronicling the trials.

I’m reading all these books simultaneously and they all share one thing in common: a very sad story of a corrupt church that did much more harm than good.  In each instance the church used its power to gain control over people to their detriment.

Add to these readings the weekly emails I get from people who have read my book, Broken Trust (about toxic faith and spiritual abuse), and a recent politician declaring his candidacy as ordained of God, and it’s all very disheartening.

I Don’t Need That

It saddens me to be a part of something that I believe in so much (the church) yet has such an ugly history of hurting people. Honestly, if I wasn’t fully embedded in such a positive church community it would be very easy for me to step back and say, “I don’t need that. There must be something about organized religion that is inherently wrong.”

Many people have come to that conclusion. In fact, if you’ve read my books, I came to that conclusion many years ago, causing me to quit church all together for a season. It was only through a series of events that I came back to church and ended up in ministry.

I find it ironic that I’m a pastor because I hold organized religion with such a high degree of suspicion and even contempt. I’ve seen the dark side. I’ve heard too many stories of hurt. It would be easy for me to walk away from the church. But thankfully I’ve seen the good side as well.  I know so many people of faith who exhibit true devotion to God, great character, and inspiring generosity,

Why I Won’t Give Up On Church

I’m indebted to these people and the church I’m a part of (Cedarbrook). They are what make me stay in the church. They are what make it all worth my time and effort. They help me to believe that God’s people can actually come together to do good. I see it every day.

I agree with Bill Hybels who has famously said that “the church is the hope of the world.” But I say that knowing that many people scoff at such an idea based on their experience with the church. They would say that the church is the scourge of the world and we’d all be a lot better off without it. There are websites and Facebook pages dedicated to exposing the abuses of the church. I get that, better than you might think.

Two Churches

It’s important to realize there are two “churches” out there…one that is called and directed by God to reveal his nature and serve others and one that uses the idea of God to manipulate others for its own gain (I don’t believe everyone in this second church realizes what they are doing. They have just been fed a self-serving “gospel” and they don’t know any better. It empowers them in an unholy way and they accept it, not knowing that it’s contrary to who God is. Graciously, God still moves in their lives, but not as much as he could.)

If you are a believer in God, I hope you won’t give up on church but seek to find a healthy church and join it. If you can’t find one, then be a part of creating it. Don’t give up. The world needs to see the kingdom of God in action. If we give up…then the world truly has no hope.

If you are not a believer I hope you will not judge all believers based on the evil you’ve seen. Please keep an open mind that there might be people out there who haven’t turned to faith out of ignorance or use religion for personal gain.

Choosing to Not Give Up on Church

It’s tempting to write off religion as corrupt foolishness, but I know better. I’ve seen too much good…too many changed lives. I will continue to believe that God is calling his people together to do good in 2018 and the days ahead. I hope you will do the same.

 

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Lose Your Christian Cliches and Jargon

I recently spoke in church about seven ways to share your faith without Christian clicheticking people off. (Download: Road Trip- Sharing Your Faith.) One of my seven points was to “Lose your clichés, jargon and spiritual innuendos.” Christian clichés, etc. are so easy to fall into, but they undermine your credibility causing people to question your sincerity.

Here’s an excerpt from my message:

Christian clichés

Christian clichés are when you over simplify complex matters with a pat answer. Rather than offering a thoughtful response, you quote a Bible verse, or say something like, “You just gotta let go and let God,” as if that is the end of  the discussion. No more needs to be said. 

The truth is, we should learn to speak intelligently about the concerns that people have about faith without resorting to a cliché. 

Clichés are often true. But that’s not the problem. The problem with clichés is that they trivialize what’s important by making it sound like once you know God you don’t have to think any more. You just have to pull out your list of Top 20 Christian clichés or Bible verses to answer any hard question that comes your way. The truth is, we should learn to speak intelligently about the concerns that people have about faith without resorting to a cliché. 

Jargon

Jargon is the words or terminology that are unique to a subculture. A subculture is any smaller group of people, like medical workers, or athletes, or motorcycle riders, etc. You have medical jargon, and sports jargon. You’ve got biker jargon. Every hobby has its unique jargon. Churches are a subculture.

But jargon only makes sense to people in that subculture. For example, if a doctor uses medical jargon on me, I’m clueless. It’s not helpful. And it’s the same when you use Christian jargon with your friends and family. People don’t know what you are talking about. Church people say things like:

  • “I feel led to do this.”
  • “I feel a check in my spirit.”
  • “We need to bathe this in prayer.”
  • “Those are works of the flesh.”
  • “You need to be born again.”
  • “The blood of Jesus covers that.”

If you’ve been in the church a long time, you probably know what these mean. But if you aren’t a church person these phrases just sound silly, if not scary. Plus it’s rude to talk in code around people who don’t know the code.

I am careful not to use jargon in church on Sunday. It’s tempting because it’s like shorthand for people in the know. But I understand that many people come to our church who didn’t grow up in church. Using jargon is confusing at best and offensive at worst.

Spiritual Innuendo

You probably know what sexual innuendo is. That’s when no matter what you say someone reads something sexual into it. They always find a sexual connotation. They think it’s funny and clever.

It’s not clever. It’s awkward. And it’s just as intellectually insulting as sexual innuendo.

Personally, I find it insulting to reduce everything to sex. I don’t mean it’s morally insulting (although that is true as well). I think it’s intellectually insulting. God gave us a creative brain to talk about interesting things, yet some people want to use that brain to talk about sex and they assume I want to do the same. That’s insulting to me.

People do that with faith. They turn everything into an opportunity to work God into the conversation. You might say, “Man, I love these French fries.” And then I say, “That’s interesting you should say that because I was just thinking about how much God loves us.” And you are thinking, “Really, that’s where you want to take this conversation? I can’t even mention French fries without you bringing God into the conversation?”

It’s not clever. It’s awkward. And it’s just as intellectually insulting as sexual innuendo.

If you want people to treat you seriously, hear what you have to say, and not get mad at you, then please… lose your Christian clichés, jargon, and the innuendos. It’s hard at first because it’s a strong habit. But people will relate to you better if your faith doesn’t drip from every word you speak.

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Five Reasons People Struggle to Find God

One of my roles is to help recovering addicts include God in their recovery process. No small task. To start the process I like to hear their stories…that is, how they saw God growing up, if at all; how they related to God through a religion, or nature, etc.Finding-God-banner-703x201

After a while, some clear themes emerge. It is VERY rare that someone in recovery tells me a good story about their spirituality. If they have found God it was usually after a long detour through some kind of bad religion. As a pastor (another role of mine) it’s been enlightening as to how LITTLE the church has helped people find God. Really sad. But there are other reasons that keep people from God. Let me list what I’ve learned.

Reasons Why People Struggle to Find God

  1. Meaningless church/religious experiences. As mentioned, it’s rare that people tell me how attending church helped them to know God. It’s usually something they had to endure for a season (usually through confirmation…a training process for kids in middle school) before they opt out. Parents want their kids to get the basics of faith but no more. The lesson kids get is that church is irrelevant and God is distant, so pay your dues and leave.
  2. Bad experiences with “believers.” This covers a gamut of experiences that turn people off from God. The basic response is: if this person is a true believer then I don’t want anything to do with what they are into. Here are a few examples of bad experiences:
    • hypocrisy
    • judgmental attitudes
    • abuse
    • historical craziness like the Crusades witch burning, or “Jones Town Massacre.”
  3. Small Mindedness. This could be included in the point above but is broad enough to be worthy of its own point. If you consider yourself an open minded free thinker, any kind of religion can pose a threat. Religion, by nature, channels your thinking into a set format. So religion is the enemy. “Believers” often think in such narrow, simplistic ways. Personally, this is something that I find embarrassing about fellow believers. They like to make things simple, i.e. black and white, pat answers. Don’t confuse me with science or the facts. To them, the beauty of faith is that it solves all complex problems with a few Bible verses. But what they love is the very thing that causes a revulsion in the free thinker. The free thinker sees faith as something that reduces you as a person.
  4. Tragedy. I’m surprised how many people either quit on God or never give God a chance because of a tragedy. There’s nothing like a death to kill faith. It’s interesting how they could handle the injustices in the world until injustice struck THEM. Until they got up close and personal with suffering, they were fine with God. (Surprisingly, the same experiences bring others to faith.)
  5. The invisibility of God. Maybe the number one struggle I hear is that it’s hard to believe in something/Someone you can’t see. People want to touch it and feel it to know it’s real.

I’m not going to attempt to answer these obstacles here, just note them. I’m curious what else you would add to this list. Please leave a comment below.

I will say that if you focus on the person of Jesus that you can bypass all five of these concerns (I’m not trying to be simplistic in saying this. I’m just saying that these five issues are often meaningless smokescreens that cloud the true issues of faith.) Whenever my doubt surfaces, whenever believers make me mad and make me want to give up on the idea of church, I always remind myself that Jesus was a historical documented person with multiple eye-witness accounts of his life, death and resurrection. My struggle isn’t with life’s problems or people that disappoint me, it’s with whether or not I accept the claims of Jesus.

What causes you to struggle with believing in God?

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Five Ways to Face the Fear of Change

We all face change. You can’t avoid it. Because of that, we all face the fear of change.fear of change

Change is built into our life experience as we make natural transitions from one stage of life to the next. We move from grade school to middle school. From middle school to high school. From high school to college.

Then we move from college to career (hopefully) and then possibly to marriage. Some of us will have kids and those that do eventually face the transition to an empty nest. We experience the change of our parents aging and eventually losing them. And then we face retirement and, of course, the ultimate transition: death.

These are just the normal changes. There are all the other changes that life throws at you: both good and bad: promotions and layoffs, divorce and remarriage. There’s financial and health setbacks as well as comebacks. We change our homes. We change our locations. And there are the changes that take place when we lose a loved one.

The Fear of Change

Every change evokes its own special set of fears because we’re not so sure we’re going to LIKE what’s on the other side of change. And maybe worse yet, we’re not so sure we’ll be able to HANDLE the change. We’re afraid that we won’t prove to be as competent as we are on this side. Or we fear we won’t be as successful or attractive or comfortable or have as much control as we do now. We fear that change will put a spotlight on our greatest weakness. The fear of change can stop us cold.

Resisting Change

Because of these fears we often resist change. When we are comfortable we’ll do just about anything we can to avoid change. We’ll ignore it. We’ll drag our feet. We’ll definitely complain about it. We’ll attack the person leading change. We’ll even try to sabotage change. But in spite of our best efforts, some change is unavoidable. For this reason we need to learn how to face the change as well as the fear of change.

I recently spoke a message on facing the fear of change by looking at the change that Jesus brought to his followers. You can read or listen to the entire message here. But I’ll share the main points with you:

How to Face the Fear of Change

  1. Anticipate change. A lot of change we should see coming. I know parents that melt down when their kids leave for college. But really, didn’t they see that change coming? I realize that some change comes out of nowhere. But much of it can be anticipated. So stay alert. Look down the road and prepare for the obvious. 

    We fear that change will put a spotlight on our greatest weakness. The fear of change can stop us cold.

  2. Understand God’s perspective on change. God is never surprised. He’s never unprepared. He has Plan B, C, and Z waiting. He’s never boxed in. He can make good out of anything. So see things from God’s perspective and then…
  3. Trust God. I know. That’s practically a cliche. But change is the best time to have your faith tested. Now or never. What have you got to lose? Sit back and watch God give you what you need to handle the change. No matter what the change is that you are facing today, God’s got your back.  You might not trust your new setting or circumstances but you can always trust God to be with you and to help you through your time of change.
  4. Focus on the gains and grieve the losses. Both are important. Don’t look for the sky to fall. Expect God to come through for you…maybe not like you’d like…but ending on top of the pile and not under it. Yet that doesn’t mean there won’t be any losses. You need to grieve your losses and not just fake your way through it. That approach will come back to haunt you.
  5. Embrace the change. Some people let change paralyze them. They refuse to move forward.  People do this all the time. Think about the college student that is so afraid of change that she just sits in her dorm room Facebooking her high schools friends back home rather than engage in her new college life. Or think of the new dad that is so afraid of being a bad dad that he turns over all of the parenting responsibilities to his wife.  Max Lucado says this about facing change: make friends with whatever’s next. Embrace it. Accept it. Don’t resist it. Change is not only a part of life; change is a necessary part of God’s strategy. FEARLESS

Your Defining Moment

Whatever the change is in front of you, it might be a defining moment in your life. God might be calling you to do something that will change your life forever. This could be your turning point. So don’t shrink back. Don’t miss the opportunity. God will be with you in your change and he’ll show you the good things about the change, if you let him.

Question: What has helped you face and overcome your fear? Leave your comment below.

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Finding Your Significance in God’s Love

In my last post I looked at the fear of insignificance. I quoted the Bible verse that tells us how God’s perfect love drives out fear and gives us significance. I want to add more to that thought today.

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

Another verse that helps me understand the unconditional nature of God’s love is ths:

God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world …he predestined us to be adopted as his children…Ephesians 1:4,5

I love this verse because it tells me that God didn’t choose me based on my performance. He fear of insignificancechose me before I had a chance to do good or bad.

If you are a parent, you can appreciate this. Think about it: when did you first love your child? Did you wait to see how they looked? Did you wait to see if they did their homework or mowed the lawn? I mean, if you wait until your kids live up to your expectations before you love them…you may never love them!

No, you loved them before they had a chance to perform, right?  You loved them just because they came from your own body. You didn’t love them because of their great significance. They were significant to your just because they were yours. In other words…their significance didn’t come from WHO they were (great performers) but WHOSE they were (yours). 

God doesn’t love you because you were important. You’re important because God loves you.

That’s what God is saying in the verse above. God didn’t choose you based on your qualifications, or resume, or spirituality, or looks, or family. He chose you unconditionally…simply because he loves you.  God doesn’t love you because you were important. You’re important because God loves you.

Adopted by God

Look at this verse again. The word “adopted” is a great metaphor.  I’m told that when you seek to adopt you can tell the agency some general characteristics that you are willing to accept. For example, you can ask for a certain age or race or level of disabilities. Or you can say, “I’ll take any child you give me.”  You accept them without condition. That’s what God did with us. It’s like God said, You don’t have to show me their file. I don’t care about what they have or haven’t done; history, blood lines, challenges. I accept them and love them just the way they are. 

Whatever it is you fear, no matter how insignificant you feel, God loves you and he’s with you. This seems so simple to me but it’s fundamental to overcoming your fear.  You have to know this and be convinced of this. Your significance doesn’t come from impressing people with your Italian jeans or your new car. Your significance comes from being loved by God. You need to rest in that. Saturate yourself in the knowledge of God’s love and let it push out every drop of fear from your heart.

The key to our acceptance comes in the brief phrase “in Christ.” To learn more about that read or listen to the full message, Facing the Fear of Insignificance by clicking the link.

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How to Overcome Fear with Faith: Part Two

This is part two to How to Overcome Fear with Faith. I’ve been looking at the story of Jesus being arrested to learn three things. I mentioned that fear is like darkness, it lies to us, and it turns us into control freaks. Max Lucado agrees. He says in his book, FEARLESS:

Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. It unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts. And it turns us into control freaks.

Fear tells us that God’s not in control. You can’t trust him. You need to do something: fast.

Fight or Flight

Psychologists talk about the fight or flight syndrome. When faced with fear we either attack the threat or run from it.  Jesus’ disciples did both. At first, one of them pulls out a sword and starts to fight. When Jesus protests, they all desert him.overcome fear

Fear makes us do something…anything…that gives us sense of gaining back our control. But what does that say about God? It says we don’t think he cares. It says we don’t think he can intervene in our lives: WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING because clearly God won’t.

Really? Is that true?  Or could it just be that we’re a little too impatient?

The Great Robber

When we lie to ourselves about God, the fourth thing happens: Fear robs from us.  It almost robbed the disciples of their calling.  It caused ten men to desert Jesus, one to deny him and the twelfth man to betray him before committing suicide. That’s the fruit of fear.

Plus, it almost robbed the world of good news. What Jesus did for us was great. But what good is it if no one knows about it?  It’s like; what good is the free meal at the soup kitchen if no one knows about it?

I wonder what’s been stolen from you over the years?

What battles were never fought? What victories were never won?

What relationships were never formed?

What careers were never started?   

What adventures were never launched?

What ideas were never developed?

What hobbies were never explored or enjoyed?

Or which of the above were started but then abandoned? Max Lucado calls fear:

the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise it makes and room it takes, fear does little good. Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors. Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?  

I wonder if you’ve been herded into a prison and had the door slammed shut. What’s scaring you? What lies are robbing from you?

God’s in Control

Jesus walked out of that tomb on Easter, he showed his disciples that he was in control all along. He was in control when he sweat blood. He was in control when he was arrested. He was in control when he was beaten. And he was still in control when he was crucified. There was nothing to fear.

The same is true for whatever trouble you are facing now. God is in control. Fall into his arms and trust that he will carry you through. Life may be different on the other side, but it can still be good.

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