“Not ANOTHER article on singleness”

single woman silhouetteAs a child, when someone would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer was always, “A wife and mommy.” Blame it on my upbringing, culture, or gender, but it was the honest truth. Entering college (one that had ‘Bible’ in its title, which students tongue-and-cheek changed to ‘bridal’) that desire continued. While I did not go to college to find a husband, like many young people, I assumed I would find my spouse during those four years and get married soon after graduation. As freshman year faded into memory, senior year reached its climax, and nothing happened, anxiety had set in. Was I doomed to a life of singleness? Was something wrong with me? Was I hoping for it too much?

Questions, unfulfilled longings, and the struggles they bring filled much of my twenties. Well-meaning people made statements meant to encourage, which sometimes accomplished their purpose and sometimes brought unvoiced angst and frustration. After all, I believed God was in control. But what if his control meant my singleness? No thanks, Lord. Continue reading

Are You True?

My niece has reached the age where she can distinguish between telling the truth and a lie. Like most four-year-olds, she has tested the waters  as she learns to navigate the trajectory words have on life. This has led to both serious discussions on why it’s important not to lie, and humorous moments as I’ve watched her process those lessons, applying them to her actions and to the actions of others.

Now, when my niece is uncertain about something I say, she will ask me, “Are you true?” I love when she asks this question; not only because it shows she’s learning to think critically and to seek the truth, but because there is a deeper question being asked, one  she’s not even conscious of raising. Continue reading

The King of Spring: An Easter Meditation

Living in the Midwest, the first days of spring, when the temperature stays above 40 degrees two days or longer, is a time of celebration. Coats stay in closets and t-shirts come out of drawers, while children and adults take advantage of the fresh air that won’t cause frostbite.

2013-03-30 11.05.49But this morning, as I went for the first of many warmer weather walks, the same mixed emotions that I experience every year at this time came upon me.  The beginning of spring has always been a time of joyful anticipation and deep frustration for me. The rising temperatures and brighter sun awaken the hope and excitement of life. Soon everything will be green; flowers will be blooming; the sky will deepen to a cheerful blue that will eventually transform into a warm haze. But none of this has taken place… yet. The ground is still frozen; everything is still lifeless. The world is still draped in the browns, grays, and dreariness of death. And this always depresses me. I long for life, but instead I’m confronted with decay. Continue reading

Responding to the Newtown Tragedy: When Words are too Much

I, like many, have been deeply mourning the tragedy that struck in Connecticut just a few days ago. And I’ve been deeply troubled by the lengths people have gone to promote a personal agenda, even if it is a good agenda. I’ve heard questions and debates about evil, God’s existence, gun control, and so on and so forth. I’ve been tempted to formulate some sort of response myself. Yet I’ve reached the conclusion that maybe this is a time for me to remain silent, to mourn with those who are suffering, and to honor the lives of those lost by refraining from a personal response so close to the event. So rather than add to the noise surrounding this time of grief, I’ve decided to link to a few articles and blogs that I believe are helpful in promoting thoughtful and compassionate silence.

In the Midst of Peril

Today is not an easy day for me, which I’m sure many can relate to. In the midst of difficulties questioning God’s goodness is not reserved to the Atheist and Agnostic. Every Christian I know, including myself, has at one point or another faced pain. And in the pain we’ve wondered where God disappeared to. If he is good and just, why does he allow certain things to happen? If he loves us, why doesn’t he step in and stop the pain? It’s a very personal question that touches us all. As an apologist, I wrestle with this not only intellectually, but spiritually and emotionally.

In this post I don’t want to give you all the intellectual reasons on why you can trust that God is good (though I will recommend you listen to Lee Strobel’s talk on why God allows suffering here.) Instead, I want to share with you a thought close to my heart and a prayer.

One of my favorite verses is found in John’s Gospel. On the night Jesus was betrayed, a few short hours before he went to the cross, he looked at his disciples and said something very profound. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is a big promise from a man about to die. Yet it is a promise he can make and keep because he did not stay dead. He is alive. He has defeated, is defeating, and will ultimately defeat all that is wrong and evil; not only the evil out there, but the evil within me. He is my reason for hope and trust in the goodness of God, because he is God, the Word made flesh.

The prayer I want to share with you comes from a book called Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. It’s not nearly as archaic and boring as the title sounds. It’s an amazing little book filled with prayers that beautifully show what it looks like to know God and to communicate honestly with him. Wherever you are in questioning God’s goodness, I hope it speaks to you as it has me.

Peril

Sovereign Commander of the Universe,

I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief,

In a felt spiritual darkness.

My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude,

And I cannot act faith at all.

My heavenly Pilot has disappeared,

And I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages;

I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves,

In horror and distress unutterable.

Help me, O Lord,

To throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee,

For better, for worse, without comfort,

And all but hopeless.

Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind,

Morning joy that comes after night heaviness;

Water my soul richly with divine blessings;

Grant that I may welcome thy humbling in private

So that I might enjoy thee in public;

Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low.

Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am

As vile as he;

Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy,

A trophy of redeeming power;

In my distress let me not forget this.

All-wise God,

Thy never-failing providence orders every event,

Sweetens every fear,

Reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good,

Brings real good out of seeming evil,

Makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon,

To show me what a short-sighted creature I am,

And to teach me to live by faith upon thy blessed self.

Out of my sorrow and night

Give me the name Naphtali –

‘satisfied with favor’ –

Help me to love thee as thy child,

And to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree.

Four Letter Words: Hope

“It is well we should become aware of what we are doing when we speak, of the ancient, fragile, and (well used) immensely potent instruments that words are.”[1]

So says C.S. Lewis in his less known, yet brilliant, work Studies in Words. This statement has captured my attention and imagination these past days.  I have this mental image of people spitting out words like bullets with no particular care about what they are saying or who they hit. Words, whether spoken or written, have the potential to wound like bullets or refresh like water on the parched soil of our souls.

This concept of words bringing a curse or a blessing has led me to contemplate the power of four letter words. But I’m not thinking of the four letter curse words that are most likely popping into your head at the moment. I’m not referring to the ones that are so flippantly spoken in everyday life, being the dominant vocabulary of movies, television, and music. I’m thinking of other four letter words which also have immense power to harm or heal. I’m thinking of words like hope, love, wait, and faith (I know that’s a 5 letter word, but it applies to this thought). These have become four letter words to me because while they are words meant to offer blessing, when used flippantly or at the wrong time they can feel like a curse. For example, for anyone who longs for marriage or parenthood, the often made comment of “Just wait on God’s timing,” while true, often rings hollow and does little to encourage in the midst of the wounds of longing. Or for the person going through deep suffering, to tell them to “not give up hope” or “You need more faith” may as well be like telling them to fly to the moon. It’s impossible.

This past week I’ve been immersed in conversations surrounding the four letter word Hope. We use it so haphazardly. We hope we make our flight on time. We hope traffic is light. We hope our favorite sports team beats their rival. And in the same breath we hope our loved one survives cancer. We hope we don’t lose our job in a struggling economy, or that we find a job. We hope our children grow up with strong character. We hope tomorrow is better than today. We hope we’re not wasting our life. We hope that whatever we are placing our faith in doesn’t fail us in the end.

So often we use the word hope and we mean nothing more than wishful thinking. It’s a word we use to communicate uncertainty and wish about the future. And when our hope shatters, we have no idea what to do or where to turn.

Into this concept of hope as wishful thinking, the Christian understanding of hope invades our hopelessness, shining brightly in what is often a very dark world. The Christian understanding of hope begins with an acknowledgement that the world is not the safe and good place we long for (which I think we can all agree on).  It does not ignore our pain. It confronts our pain at its very foundation of our own brokenness and inability to right what is wrong in our world and in us. It assures us that we can, with confident expectancy, look forward to the day when right-ness will replace all that is wrong and every tear wiped from the eyes of those who have looked to Jesus to mend what only He can fix.

Andy Bannister of RZIM Canada recently made this point so well. The Christian hope finds its stability in God’s reality and character. He is the only ground for, basis of, and object of true hope. Because its hope based upon the Person of God and knowing Him, the reasons for hope are as far from wishful thinking as one can get. [2] The uniqueness of this hope is that its founded on something outside of us and our world. All other worldviews look either within or without in the search for a better tomorrow. Only Christianity looks upward, acknowledging that there is nothing within us or in our world that can fix the darkness we live in.

As the Apostle Paul said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Yet the message of Christian hope doesn’t end here, because “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Because of Christ, this four letter word of hope speaks a blessing and not a curse. We may use it carelessly, but the message of confident expectancy it communicates is anything but flippant.

_________________________________

[1] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words, Cambridge University Press, 1961,  p. 6.

[2] Notes from Andy Bannister’s talk, “Hope and Thinking,” at the RZIM Summer Institute, June 13, 2012. http://stayintheconversation.org/rzimcanada/

Is Faith a Crutch? You Better Believe It!

My four-year-old niece has a little stuffed panda named Pammy. Pammy is her “best friend” and the two of them do everything together. Even though this little bear is falling apart and almost as old as I am (she was mine as a little girl), she is my niece’s favorite toy. When she is sad, Pammy is there. When she’s afraid, she hugs Pammy for comfort. She shares her laughter, jokes, and kisses with this little stuffed animal. The joy and comfort she has received are legitimate. Yet in reality, my niece’s faith in Pammy’s ability to comfort her is a misplaced faith. Pammy is a toy that cannot offer her any real help.

For many, faith in God is similar to my niece’s relationship with Pammy the Panda. You may gain perceived comfort from it, but it’s a fictional comfort divorced from reality. Just as Pammy can’t really protect my niece from her fears, God can’t protect us, help us, or guide us because He’s not real. He may make us feel better, but in reality nothing changes because He’s just a psychological toy. He’s a crutch people use when they don’t understand what’s going on around them and don’t know how to cope with life.

If you had come up to me a year ago and told me my Christian faith in God was a crutch, the apologetic wheels in my head would have begun turning and I would have started sharing with you all the reasons why my faith has legitimate grounds. I would have delved into the evidence for God’s existence and tried to show you that my faith in Him is not wishful thinking. I might have looked at Freud’s understanding of faith as wish-fulfillment and compared it with how C.S. Lewis would respond. Maybe I would have taken you to passages in the Bible that talk about faith’s foundation being built on evidence for God’s existence and loving character. I definitely would have sent you to articles by apologists smarter than I am who have answered this question so well.[1]

But that was a year ago. A lot can happen in a year, and in my case a lot has. In a year I’ve gone through a period of depression, which in all honesty, I’m not sure has fully gone away. I’ve experienced the discouragement of unemployment in a struggling economy. I watched one of my closest friends lose the fight against cancer. I’ve worked through the pain of broken relationships and the loss of trust.  I’ve watched my family suffer and experience injustice that leaves me at a loss for words (which is saying a lot because I’m a very wordy person). When I’ve thought I can’t handle another wave of suffering without shattering into a million pieces, another wave has come crashing down. I’ve questioned my worth, purpose, and God’s goodness. I’ve gotten angry at Him, and agonized over how a good God can allow the personal suffering and injustice I’m experiencing. This past year I’ve had to wrestle through my faith in God where the rubber meets the road.  My faith’s been tested as I’ve had to wrestle through what, or who, I base my faith upon.

So what about today? If you came to me today and told me my faith is a crutch, how would I respond? Well, I still hold to and believe everything I would’ve said a year ago. I still believe my faith rests upon reliable evidence and not wishful thinking. But my response would be quite different.

Is my faith a crutch? You better believe it! In fact, it’s more than that. It’s my life support.  It’s what keeps my heart beating and my lungs breathing. My faith is an acknowledgement that I am utterly broken and weak. I can’t do this thing called life in my strength. My faith is kind of like that mustard seed Jesus talked about. It’s small and has no strength. But my God is strong! I desperately need Him and I have no one else to cling to but Him. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Clinging to Him and not the brokenness of this world and my life is a safe place to rest.

My soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”[2]

 

Unlike my niece who finds fictional comfort and friendship in Pammy the Panda, my comfort comes from choosing to trust that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the midst of life’s sorrows is real.  I gladly acknowledge that He is my crutch.


[1] I still recommend you read these articles: “Your relationship with God is just a Psychological Crutch,” http://www.rzim.eu/your-relationship-with-god-is-just-a-psychological-crutch  and “Is Christianity just a Crutch?” http://www.rzim.eu/is-christianity-just-a-crutch

The Irrelevance of Culture

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“Culture? The irrelevance of it!”[1]

If you are like me the idea that culture is irrelevant is ridiculous and goes against your understanding of our humanity and Christianity. We love Lewis, but considering the deep impact his life and writings have had on Western culture his statement is surprising. He’s way off here!

In recent years there has been a large push from the Evangelical world to become culture-makers and “sub-creators.” As Christians we believe we’re created in the image of God with the cultural mandate to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). This includes more than having babies and keeping plants and animals in check. It includes using all the talents and gifts God has given us for His glory. It includes music, literature and drama, fashion, politics, taking care of the environment, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Christians who take the Bible seriously it doesn’t get more relevant than culture. Yet, as Christ-followers, why don’t we see a greater impact on culture? Why is it that so often we are trying to keep up or catch up with the culture around us? We want to dramatically influence culture for the kingdom and glory of God (and in many ways we are), yet we often we seem to miss the mark.

This has led me to start asking questions. As a follower of Christ, am I to pursue impacting culture for Christ? Or am I to pursue Christ which will inevitably impact culture? It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference. And I think it’s a significant one. I can’t help contemplating the idea that as Christians we’re not experiencing the influence we long for because we’re focusing on the influence itself. How does the world perceive us? Do they see us as relevant? Are we speaking their language? Do they get us, find us attractive, or want to imitate us? These are all good questions that we need to take seriously and work through. But is it the right place to start?

Regarding culture Lewis also said,

“True culture comes from genuine, spontaneous, un-sought after enjoyment of something.” [2]

In other words, true culture comes from who you are, not what you do. I would suggest that he was right and take it one step further. As a Christian, true cultural impact comes not from seeking to impact culture but from genuine enjoyment of SOMEONE, namely Jesus. If we are not having the impact we long for, does it indicate the depth of our love for God Himself? When I look at history, the greatest impact Christians have had on culture and the world (this includes Lewis) has been from those who were not seeking cultural influence. They had an awe-inspiring love for their Savior which they longed to share with others. With the Psalmist their souls hungered and thirsted for God. They longed for a better country, a heavenly one. Their cry was,

“My goal is God himself, not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.”[3]

Their consuming love for God poured out into all they did. It influenced art, science, politics, justice, and life both at home and abroad. Maybe Lewis was right. Maybe culture in and of itself is irrelevant. Just as culture is the outward manifestation of our inner longings and character, maybe the Christian’s impact on culture also comes from within. Maybe if my consuming goal was “God himself” I’d start to see the cultural transformation I rightly long for.


Note: For the first posting of this blog, visit Park Community Church

[1] Lewis quote taken from his essay “Lilies that Fester” in The World’s Last Night: and Other Essays

[2] Ibid

[3] Quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest

The Terror of Quiet Stillness

One of the joys of life for me these past months has been to go to my favorite little café two or three times a week. There’s something special, or maybe sad, about not having to place my drink order. The women who run the café see me coming and automatically begin preparing my beverage of choice (tall spiced chai latte). I sit down with a book or two, sometimes three, and enjoy a few hours or reading, writing, or reflecting on the latest Facebook updates.

The other day as I was contemplating words of wisdom as posted on Twitter, I noticed a plaque sitting on the shelf across the table from me. It read, “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”  I had read it before, but its message struck me afresh as I sat there.  I saw it as a message of quiet stillness. Ironically, as I read it, I was facing my open laptop, had a few books to the side, could hear the soft buzz of conversation around me, and was listening to the jazz-like music coming from the café’s radio. Why am I, why are we, afraid to sit and think? I wonder if the fear for many of us isn’t in sitting and thinking but in the quietness that will inevitably go with the stillness.

There’s something terrifying about quiet stillness. I’m afraid of it because I’m afraid of what I’ll hear when there’s no noise to drown out a whisper. When the world around me grows still and becomes quiet, the whispers in my head increase to a shout. I’m bombarded with anxiety, feelings of failure, guilt, and regret. My brokenness and inability to live well seem to mock my feeble attempts to find meaning and purpose. So I keep myself busy. I fill my time with noise. Some of the noise is good and worth listening to.  But all too often its white noise that subtly grates on my nerves and leaves me feeling hollow. Where can a girl find relief?

I have discovered that the relief I long for lies in the quiet stillness I fear. Yes, when I am quiet I am attacked by the noise of my brokenness and disappointments. Yet in the quiet I am also met by the One who fills the silence with the peace of His presence. When I sit quietly and think I discover that God has much to say that I need and long to hear. His voice does not fill me with empty white noise. His words bring life, healing, and refreshment to my soul. The words of Jesus are like cold water to my parched nerves, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”[1] As He quiets me with His love and I learn to trust the truth of His voice, I find strength.[2] I have discovered that quiet stillness is a place of deep intimacy with the God who has redeemed my brokenness. And so, I’m not afraid to sit awhile and think.


[1] Mark 6:31

[2] Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah. 30:15

The Apologetic of Not Knowing

For any lover of British humor Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic movie. The unique comedy of the film follows King Arthur and his knights as they search for the Holy Grail. As Arthur and his men draw closer to the end of their quest, they come across an old and dangerous footbridge guarded by an old man. In order to cross the bridge the brave knights have to answer three random and ridiculous questions. If they fail to answer correctly or have no answer at all, they fall into the ravine to their death.

This movie is not typically known to cause one to stop and ponder the deeper issues of life. Yet I believe the footbridge scene is a good example of how many people view apologetics and why they are afraid to share their faith. Apologetics is the word used to describe sharing the rich intellectual evidence Christians have for trusting in the historicity and truth of the claims Jesus and the Bible make.

For years I was afraid to share my faith and the hope that I had in Jesus. I was afraid that I would be asked a question I couldn’t answer correctly or wouldn’t know the answer to at all. I thought that if I didn’t have an answer to the tough questions it might mean my faith wasn’t real. Maybe I’d find out that my faith was blind and irrational. Or I thought that if I couldn’t answer a tough question I would forever hinder that person from knowing the truth. If I had no answer I’d fall into the ravine to the death of my faith and the faith of others.

Over time I have learned that there are answers to the tough questions of life. My faith is not blind. My lack of apologetic knowledge will not thwart God’s salvation purposes. Yet with all the ‘answers’ I have learned, one of the most significant lessons I have gained took me by surprise. To honestly answer a question by saying, “I don’t know,” is refreshingly liberating. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a great apologetic for the Gospel in not knowing.

To admit there are things I don’t know can create many significant opportunities to share with others what I do know. I may not know the philosophical arguments for how a good God can allow suffering. But I do know that Christ in His goodness suffered on behalf of humanity. When He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he demonstrated that he knows personally what it means to feel rejected and alone. I do know that in the Bible God has promised to correct every wrong and bring justice to the earth.

“I don’t know” creates a natural invitation to investigate questions with the one asking them. Rather than brushing the inquiry aside I can ask the questioner to search for the answer with me. Not only will this investigation hopefully help answer the seeker’s question, it will also strengthen my faith as I see the reasonableness of what I believe.

To humbly admit I don’t have the answer also demonstrates that my faith is not based solely upon my limited understanding. Though what I believe rests on sound reason, “I don’t know” shows that my faith finds its basis in the personal Triune God.  While I will never know the answer to every question life produces I can still have confidence in my faith. This is because it rests upon a relationship with the trustworthy character of God, not my limited knowledge.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[1] You don’t have to know the scientific process of the earth’s rotation to have confidence in the sun’s daily appearance.  In the same way, you don’t have to know the answer to every question to have confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When the questions do come, which they inevitably will, you can face them with excitement and confidence. You can use “I don’t know” to know more than you ever thought possible.


[1] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, Harper One, 2001: p. 140