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faith

  • Online Church, A Return to Embodied Faith

    When people criticize the idea of online church, they often talk about how online worship services feel disembodied, disconnected from the physical experience of community. Is there another, better way for us to think about online church?
  • God’s Chosen: Wrestling with God and Humanity

    Time and again, God seems to have chosen the screw-ups of the world to change history. Why is it that those who wrestle against God and humanity are so often the bearers of God's promise? In this post, I look at the story of Jacob's wives, Leah and Rachel, who were far from what we would consider "good Christians," yet became the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • Emerging into a Community of Believers

    This post is about as close a thing as I've ever written to my personal testimony and Christian calling, from the fundamentalism of my youth to the deconstruction and reconstruction of my faith upon Jesus Christ, the revelation of God.
  • Skittles and Sheep

    "If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem." That message, posted by Donald Trump Jr. yesterday, should be deeply concerning for Christians. The call of the gospel is not to protect ourselves, but to protect the abused, the broken, the exiles.
  • To Love Them Both

    A reflection on Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other." (NLT)
  • Discerning Fear with the Help of Faith

    We live in a scary world. Every time we turn around, we discover something new that causes us to fear for ourselves, our families, or our friends. At the same time, there’s no shortage of cheesy Christian memes on Facebook reminding us to “Fear not, for I am with you always!” and chastising us any time we feel anxious. The idea that we don’t have to fear anything because we have God the Mighty Warrior on our side sounds great on paper, but it doesn’t feel real when we are face-to-face with the dark sides of life. For the single mother who has no job and a growing pile of debt... For the parents whose child is laying on a hospital bed awaiting surgery… For the driver gripping the wheel for the first time since the nearly-fatal accident… For the student whose ability to afford college hinges upon one exam... ...for them, in that moment, the understanding that God cares for them feels superficial. Fear is what feels real. I cannot sit here behind my computer and tell you that I have this fear/faith thing figured out. I don’t have any answers. But I think that as we grapple together with what fear is and how it relates to faith, we learn how to keep fear in its place and nurture faith instead. I’ll lay out some of my thoughts, but I hope that you join in the conversation via the comments section at the bottom of the page so we can work through these questions together. Fear is not the same as caution. This is an excuse we use all the time. “It’s not that I’m scared… I’m just being cautious.” Ninety percent of the time, that’s a load of bull. Caution, we all agree, is important. It’s the preparation that enables us to live full, confident lives. For example... We lock our doors at night. We buckle our seatbelts when we get in a car. We check our blind spots before we merge. We get vaccinated against deadly diseases. Living cautiously simply means that we’re able to actively engage with our community because we are using common sense to avoid unnecessary disaster. Fear is a natural emotion. A friend of mine described fear this way: “Fear is about my perceived lack of control. Life has messed with my circumstances. I feel out of control.“ Being afraid is an emotion that, at its foundation, is no different than happiness, sadness, or excitement. When we find ourselves in certain circumstances, our bodies and our minds respond by making us feel scared. When we are in situations in which we don’t feel we have control, it is entirely natural for us to be scared. I don’t want to gloss over that, because I think it’s vitally important for us to understand that it’s okay to feel fear. We should never be ashamed of it. In this crazy world that we live in, fear is real. A couple of months ago, Shannon…
  • A Nation After Christ

    There are a lot of different ideas about whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Regardless of those ideas, though, the majority of Americans now say that the United States of today isn’t Christian nation. The question, then, is whether we should strive to establish the United States as a Christian nation for tomorrow. Conservative voices across the country join together to demand laws that defend the biblical definitions of marriage and protect expressions of Christian faith on government property. They cry for Christian men and women to speak up, protest governmental authorities, and stop the rise of secularization in our nation. Certainly, Christians should hope for all Americans to come to know Christ in a real and personal way. We should have that same hope for all the world. But is legislating our Christian ethics the way we are to bring people to Christ? Let’s start with some of the core, universal beliefs of evangelical Christianity. At the heart of evangelicalism is the idea that authentic Christian faith is personal. The decision to live your life for Christ is one that each individual must make for himself. It’s not something that can be inherited or passed along or absorbed by sitting in a pew. We believe in the transformative power of a relationship with God. When a person commits their life to Christ, the Holy Spirit speaks to them and draws them closer to God. We believe that community is a vitally important part of Christian life. We come together to worship, to support one another, and to challenge each other. I understand the desire to create a Christian culture. After all, we want to live in a wholesome society that shares our values. And since we believe in the right-ness of our values, we believe society can be improved by adhering to our values. And we feel that if the world would simply live by our ethics, the United States would be a beautiful, happy place to live. But here’s one of my big hangups with that. When we create laws based on the Bible*, we are effectively discouraging people from having a personal relationship with Christ.  We’re telling them they have to live a Christian life rather than allowing them to discover the joy of living a Christian life. It’s like reading books. I’ve always loved reading - I was one of those kids that went to the library every other week and brought home 10 books to read over the next 14 days. In school, though, we were always assigned a list of books to read, and working through those books was torture. They weren’t bad books. They weren’t boring or difficult to understand. I just hated reading them. Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve re-read a number of those books for fun, and I’ve been astounded at how incredible those books are. I’ve loved reading them. Why do I enjoy them so much now even though I hated them in school?…
  • The War is Coming!

    Sometimes, in our preparation for war, we are the ones creating the fight.
  • The Slippery Slope of Denying Inerrancy

    When I was a kid, my parents had this amazing blue recliner. It was the most comfortable seat in the house, and I loved it. The chair had some cosmetic flaws - it had a few tears and stains, and it squeaked a bit as you rocked. As my mother would say, the flaws “added character.” But the chair was completely sturdy and it did what it was intended to do perfectly. For most conservative evangelicals, the concept of biblical inerrancy - the entire, factual accuracy of the Bible - is foundational to faith. The idea of an “errant” Bible is a scary thought. I was discussing this with a friend of mine the other day, and he humbly expressed his thoughts like this: I think that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is a sort of gatekeeper to all sorts of potential false teachings and outright heresies. Now, it doesn't at all mean that someone who doesn't hold to biblical inerrancy IS heretical or believes a bunch of completely unsound things, but I do think there's a slippery slope, and that it becomes much more difficult to know where to stop if you aren't holding to the inerrancy of Scripture. In my experience, this is an entirely common approach to the discussion. I was raised in a mix of conservative independent Baptist and Southern Baptist churches - this is the exact same perspective that I held for many years. The logic goes like this: If one piece of the Bible is false, then where does it end? If we accept any errors in the Bible, then the entire Bible is in doubt. If the Bible is wrong, that would make God a liar - since he is most definitely not a liar, the Bible must be inerrant. My goal in this post is not to convince anyone one way or the other about biblical inerrancy. Not only would I fail at that, but it would damage the Christian faith. Instead, I simply want us to better understand what people mean when they deny an inerrant Bible. Strict Inerrancy First, let’s take a look at what “biblical inerrancy” means. There is actually a wide range of ways to define inerrancy, but whenever I hear people talking about it, they are almost always referring to strict inerrancy, a doctrine formalized in 1975 by The Chicago Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics. For the sake of brevity, I won’t publish the entire statement, but here is the part that seems to be the key (emphasis mine): Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth…
  • Adults, We Don’t Have to Agree.

    My faith has grown a lot over the years, and I hope that it keeps growing as I continue to mature. We all grow up with ideas about how life works. As we grow, we learn that some of them are right (don’t touch fire, because it burns), some are wrong (Santa brings us presents on Christmas), and some are simply matters of opinion (sauerkraut is nasty). Part of being a mature adult is having the ability to challenge - and find answers for - those assumptions. Being able to have truly open discussions about life questions is crucial to growing and learning. The key word in that sentence is “open.” We Christians (particularly evangelicals) love to talk about the hot topics in our social circles. We love making sure everyone knows exactly where we stand on abortion, creation, and homosexuality. The problem is that we are unwilling to concede that our views could possibly be wrong. When we approach the conversation in this way, we are behaving like a child who, upon being told that Santa isn't real, puts his hands over his ears and shouts “I’m not listening to you! Santa IS real!” If we are mature in our faith, we have to be able to approach these conversations with the mindset that we COULD be wrong in what we believe. That’s not to say that we definitely are wrong - but we must be able to admit that the possibility exists. Aristotle summed my thoughts up well. He said: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
  • 7 Things the Church Is Doing Right

    For the past week or so, I've had a serious case of writer’s block. Well, not writer’s block exactly. I've been able to put pen-to-paper, but the things that I've been writing haven’t had the voice that I'm used to writing with. They've had a harsh, judgmental, preachy tone that I despise, and when I've gone back and read what I've written, I’m shocked at the way I’ve expressed myself. That kind of tone is not okay - it’s the exact opposite of everything that I (and this blog) stand for. In contrast to how I've been writing lately, I have a couple of friends that have been on Facebook intentionally sharing only #PositivePosts. They are sharing everything from videos of cuddly little kittens to words of praise for people in their lives who aren't often recognized - but each post is encouraging and uplifting. I've been sitting back and watching them do this all week, and it finally hit me that this was the answer to fixing my bad attitude. I needed to join the #PositivePosts party. So I present to you: 7 Things the Church is Doing Right. Obviously, I can’t speak for every individual local church in the world, but from what I can see of Christ’s followers today, we are doing some incredible things. 1. We’re Worshiping the Same God Whether we worship in a Lutheran church, Baptist church, Catholic church, or Nazarene church, we are drawing closer together as a body of believers. We are growing more and more aware that, even though our worship styles can vary and particular doctrines may be different, we’re all following the same Father. We are increasingly embracing our differences as a mark of beauty rather than seeing them as a blemish of the faith. Let’s continue to praise the one who made us all. 2. We’re Praying for One Another I love that when people are willing to share their struggles on Facebook, Christians are able to surround them in communal prayer in a way that was never possible before social media. Just this week, a relative of mine went through a battery of tests because doctors were worried she might have cancer. Through this emotional roller-coaster, it was amazing to see how many people were on their knees praying for her - often people she didn't even know! Let’s continue to join together in prayer. 3. We’re Using Our Diverse Talents Accountants, handymen, and other volunteers have long been the backbone of the local church, but we are seeing more and more people bringing their gifts to the altar of God. Artists, craftsmen, musicians, designers - people of all industries and walks of life are finding that God has a place for their talents at his table, and they are working to create a magnificent tapestry of praise to our Father. We, as a Church, are learning to embrace the gifts that he has given us and use them for his glory. It’s a beautiful picture. Let’s continue to be…
  • An Agnostic Search for Truth

    Personal Note: This post was written by an old friend of mine. He shared it with me in private, and though he wishes to remain anonymous, he gave me permission to publish the account here. His willingness to open himself up in this way is, for me, a much-needed affirmation: this is exactly the kind of conversation I had hoped this site would inspire. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I have. If his story inspires you to share your own, please let me know. I would be happy to publish anyone’s account as long as it is written with sincerity and respect. I grew up going to church in a family dedicated to God and his work. It was a strict Southern Baptist upbringing. No TV, no secular music in our house, etc. In fact, I knew about 9/11 before my parents did because there was no TV in the house for them to find out about it! I went to church every Sunday morning and evening, every Wednesday, and sometimes Fridays for youth nights, all up until the time when I got a job and was allowed to use that as an excuse to skip church. Hypocrisy. It is what drove me from the church, that and normal teen rebellion. I watched a church split up over foyer carpet and a bus. I am sure there were underlying issues but that is what I saw. People dividing into sects and clicks, old folks over young folks, pastors leaving, and none of the people in the church big enough to reason with one another and make decisions for the betterment of the church as a whole. Leaving the church and joining the army, being deployed to 3rd world countries multiple times has led me through interesting theological debates. There are times that I miss the oneness felt while singing praises to god during the worship service, but then I remember the people. The liars. All sinners who sinned on a regular basis with no sense of remorse except when they were in church, and even that is doubtful. I watched horrendous things in the name of religion, lost friends, and met people who I would befriend for a lifetime, and in all of this I wondered what was out there. Something is out there. Someone is out there. Is it the Christian God, Allah? Do the Buddhists have it right? The new age religions like Wicca? I have explored a lot, read the Quran, visited Buddhist temples, been to a coven meeting, and I found similarities in all of them. The thing that confuses me the most is the feeling of oneness you find in all of them. When chanting in a Buddhist ritual I felt the same oneness, connected with the universe, that I felt when singing during a Christian worship service. How do you know which one is right, and for that matter, which of the variety of Christian denominations is right? Is there one true religion?…
  • Freedom in Biblical Inerrancy

    If I asked three different men to describe the perfect woman, I would get three completely different responses. The first man might describe a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed bombshell. The second man might describe a woman of remarkable intellect and drive. And the third man might describe a woman who was 100% devoted to her family. They would each have their own interpretation of what “perfect” means. “Perfect” isn't enough. What, then, is the real perfect woman? Is one description right and the other two wrong? Is she a mixture of the three descriptions? Or should we boil the definition of a perfect woman down to primal evolutionary functions (in which case she would be any one who was able to survive and carry on the human race)? The term “perfect” can have a lot of different meanings and can be interpreted in many different ways. It isn't strong enough to stand on its own - it needs context in order to have any kind of practical purpose. For the word to have any real value in our conversations, we need to clarify which interpretation of perfection we mean. Biblical Inerrancy: The Question of Perfection We run into this very same issue when we discuss “biblical inerrancy” - at first glance, it means that the Bible is perfect and without error. Much of the discussion on the topic centers around 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (NLT) The beginning of that verse - “All Scripture is inspired by God…” - has been dissected and analyzed and interpreted, and it is the basis of the concept of biblical inerrancy. Basically, the idea is that since Scripture is inspired by God (alternately interpreted as “God-breathed”), it is perfect. But how do we really define this doctrine of inerrancy? Are we simply saying that the NLT (or whatever translation you prefer) that we hold in our hands has no typos? What about translation errors or discrepancies with other translations? Most Christians would agree that this definition is not accurate. Are we saying that every sentence of the Bible literally applies to our lives? Most Christians would agree that this definition is not accurate either. A more common definition of biblical inerrancy is that, with the exception of the parts of Scripture that are poetry or metaphor, the Bible is 100% factually accurate and should be read at face value. This is to say, for example, that since it describes the creation of the world as occurring over a period of six days, God created the world in six literal days. Within this view, there is some question about which books and passages are poetry or metaphor. (Who decides which parts are to be taken literally and which should be read figuratively?) Taking these questions even further,…
  • A Calm Heart

    In the midst of the storm of brokenness, peace comes from the tender heartbeat of God.
  • It’s My Right. (Part 2)

    God's Word is very clear about how we Christians should live our lives, but we, as a culture, have become adept at setting these rules aside by either conveniently ignoring them or writing them off as metaphors or altruistic ideals.
  • Life In Pursuit

    Christianity, in a nutshell: God made me, but I screwed up the relationship that we had. God is so passionate about pursuing me, that he gave up his only son to restore our relationship. Because of his love for me, I am passionate about pursuing him, and I want others to discover his love, as well. If I am a Christian, then my strongest desire should be to grow closer to Christ. That desire should trump my desire for job security, healthiness, and family. My pursuit of God should come before my career, dreams, and my ministry. Re-read that. Really think about it for a minute. Do you agree or disagree? ... If, as a Christian, my strongest desire is to pursue Christ, then wouldn't I spend more time in communication with him than I do with my wife? Wouldn't I spend more time with him than I do working? Now I just sound like a hippie. Or some kind of radical. We can't all quit our jobs and devote our entire lives to meditating on the Bible – someone's gotta pay the bills! Besides, that's what we have pastors for, right? It's their job to study and share God's truth with us. Right? Right? ... Call me crazy, call me radical, or call me a hippie, but I think that if I am truly passionate about pursuing God, I should be focused on that task in every aspect of my life. That's not to say that I have to cease every "non-spiritual" activity (although it does seem to work well for the Benedictine monks), but I should engage in every area of my life with a focus on my pursuit of God. And when the times come that I have to choose between work and faith, my faith should always win. It's really easy to type this. It's even easy to say it out loud. It takes no real commitment to read it and nod my head in agreement. But it's a lot more difficult when Sunday morning comes around. I'm still sleepy, but the church has a class on Christian discipleship. Do I choose to sleep in (I can justify this, saying that I'm so sleepy that I probably wouldn't get much out of it anyways), or do I choose to do whatever it takes to relentlessly pursue God? Sunday afternoon rolls in. I've got my comfy sweatpants on, and I'm munching on popcorn and watching the game. It was a long week, so I'm glad for a little bit of relaxation time. A group of Christians are gathering across town to watch a Christian video and discuss it, but I figure that I already went to church once today, so I'm good. What do I choose to do? If I'm paying attention, the decisions that I make in these moments will show me where my heart truly is. And what if I discover that I'm not all that passionate about following Christ? If the passion of my life…
  • Love is Enough

    Why do I always expect God to give me things? Why do I think that God must reward my faithfulness – even though my faithfulness is often lacking? I expect that he will bless me richly, that he will cause my business to prosper and my life to flourish. I expect that he will give me all of the desires of my heart because, after all, he wants me to be happy. And I praise him in faith, trusting in his providence. Trusting in his blessing. But then, I wonder, if I weren't happy – if I were penniless; if my life were to crumble before me; if all that I had and all that I knew were to disappear – would I still praise him? Could I still praise him? Could I praise a God who, though he created the harvest, wouldn't give me bread to eat? Could I praise a God who, though he planted the trees, wouldn't give me a roof over my head? If God, in his mighty power, wouldn't provide such simple commodity, why should I love him? But then I stop and I think – how weak is my love for the one who gave me breath! If my affection is dependent on the gifts that he bestows upon me, how can I even claim to love my Father? If I really loved him, it wouldn't matter whether I had food, or shelter, or family, or health. True love for my Father would exist independently of his blessings. True love for my Father would see the value of the simple, extravagant love that he has for me, and would know that it is enough. And yet the truth is that he does bless me. He has prospered my business, and he has given me many of my heart's desires, and yet still my heart betrays him. What possible excuse could I have for my moments of weakness, my moments of doubt? His love for me has never wavered, never stumbled, never failed. In this, I find hope – that, in spite of my failures, he loves me still. And his love is enough.