Category Archives: Faith

Forgiveness

I recently blogged about the possibility of forgiveness as an event. As it happens, I’ve also come across notes that I wrote on this subject a couple of years ago. Here they are with only minor edits for readability.

Forgiveness is something that I’ve struggled with quite a bit as an adult. I’m generally an easy going guy, so many offenses roll off of me. It takes a lot to get me angry, but when I get really get angry it can take years to push through. If I were to run into a particular former boss, or an ex-girlfriend I probably wouldn’t come across as easy going. There are a couple of things that are helpful for me to keep in mind though. I do have to remind myself of these things.

First, I’m the one that’s negatively affected by my holding on to the offense. Lack of forgiveness is how people end up becoming bitter & hard hearted. That boss I mentioned laid me off 12 years ago, even if he still remembers there’s no way he’s as upset by it today as I am. I’m the loser here, by holding on to something in the past I’m limiting what I can see right now. Put another way, I’m the greatest benefactor when I forgive.

Second, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness is for my own benefit, to free myself from the animosity of harboring anger towards another. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the other person. I can choose to remain friends with the other person or not, independently of the choice to forgive. If I choose to break the relationship, it doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven them. I have forgiven the ex-girlfriend, but I will not give her another opportunity to hurt me. A really powerful example of this for me is punishment for crimes. Forgiving someone for committing a crime doesn’t mean that they don’t get punishment. If everyone involved, victim, attorneys, judge & jury each forgave them, it would still be appropriate and just for them to receive and serve out a sentence. We don’t forget the crime, but forgiveness releases us from it controlling our thoughts.

Third, forgiveness isn’t an event, it’s more of a process that may need to be repeated. I forgive, gain a sense of peace, then days or weeks later (sometimes years later) I’m somehow reminded of it and my temper flares like it just happened… I have to forgive again, from start to finish all over again. I’ve forgiven both the boss and the girlfriend dozens of times, and yet writing this I’m reminded of the injustice and need to do it again.

My first three points are anecdotal. My fourth & final point is that its part of God’s plan. In Matt 6:14-15 Jesus says that we’ll be forgiven as much as we forgive others, and if we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven. Paul exhorts the Colossians to “bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances…” in 3:13. Knowing this, its reasonable to believe that God will help us with forgiveness. In fact I think this is part of His plan, for us to work together in community and learn forgiveness against one another while leaning on Him. I see this as somewhat like exercise, the more we forgive the easier it gets to let go of offenses.

The notable exception to all of this is forgiving God Himself. That’s a category unto its own and I’m probably no help there. I do believe that its appropriate to pray through your relationship with God at all times, even in anger. Forgiving God for perceived offenses is pretty tough. I’ve only dealt with it once and honestly don’t know how I got through it.

If you’re interested in reading about this, try The Art of Forgiving by Lewis B. Smedes. This is his 2nd book on the subject and it really helped me during the summer after a particularly difficult layoff. Pay attention to which book you get though, Smedes first book on forgiveness (called Forgive and Forget) was terrible. I didn’t connect with it at all.

I think my third point above (repeatedly forgiving the same offense) needs more exploration. Sometime soon I’ll tie this together with my previous note and reach a conclusion. This is something that I’ve considered for years, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that soon.

Turn Around

Last week I read something that has challenged my thinking. I have had a pamphlet called How to be Free From Bitterness for at least 15 years. A friend called me last week, we were talking about forgiveness so I decided to review this to see if it would be worth sharing. The entire pamphlet is awesome. It covers general forgiveness, relationships with parents, controlling your tongue, and more. I definitely recommend it if you’re struggling with forgiveness. One aspect of it has stuck with me.

Several times through the material, the author (Jim Wilson) encourages the reader to confess their behavior and/or attitude, then forsake the pattern. He paints this as an event. You have confessed and forsaken that, now you’re done with it.

My life is so much more complicated than that. Which strikes me as very lame.

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a bitter person (but, really, who would say that about himself?). I do gripe about day in & day out annoyances. I do get frustrated with the people that I’m close to. I don’t carry grudges and I do strive to keep short accounts with people. Having said that, there are a couple of long standing grievances that I haven’t shaken in years. I don’t mean that I haven’t forgiven (I have). Quite the opposite. I forgive. Something reminds me of the injustice, so I forgive again. Years later they repeat the behavior, so I forgive again.

I have spoken to the parties involved. I have prayed. I have read books. I have forgiven. Then something will trigger this and I start the process over. This has been going on for years. Now, sometimes I bring it up and sometimes I don’t.┬áThis has definitely had an impact on those specific relationships. It’s probably fair to say that this has colored my view of relationships in general.

Wilson invites the reader to a clean slate. Confess then forsake and be free. Turn around and take a new path. I want that.

So the question that I’m wrestling with is, have I allowed my life to become too complicated to recognize freedom that’s available to me?

Fear

Liz is in the middle of training for Ironman Arizona, which means that her Saturday and Sunday mornings are spent training. We hadn’t been in church together for a couple of months. Our friends Joe and Blythe are in the same category, since Joe is training for the same event. We decided to look for a Saturday evening church, and after a lengthy web search found Calvary Austin. We’ve been attending for a couple of months now, and we really like it. Right now they’re spending a year going through the book of John, and I’ve really enjoyed a fresh, in-depth perspective on a book that I know.

One quick comment on Saturday night church, its awesome. Sunday is all yours to play or go out for a big breakfast, and there’s no guilt at all because you already worshiped. Plus, for us, it has made the difference between worshiping together or not. Our couple’s bible study meets on Sunday nights, or we’d be attending The Gathering. I’m really enjoying the Saturday night service.
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Joe Is Alive

My friend Joe was in an accident on Saturday, he was hit by an 18-wheeler. I do not mean that he had a car accident. I mean Joe was riding his bicycle in the shoulder of a highway and a semi went into the shoulder and hit Joe. I’m not kidding.

Here’s the amazing part. Joe is fine. I do not mean that Joe is recovering in a hospital bed with an excellent prognosis. I mean that Joe walked out of the hospital on his own two legs just a few hours after the accident and reported to work on Monday morning. I’m not kidding.

I’ve spoken to Joe twice since the accident. He is lucid and can recount the story with as much detail as you care to hear. He gave me permission to post it here. Be warned that this story is inherently gruesome, but also incredibly inspiring. If you’re ready then click to read Joe’s version of the story.

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Change

Last year I started a progression of blog entries about my theology shifting, and promised to write more about that. Right after that I fell in love with the coolest girl ever and my life has started to change in accordance. Theology couldn’t hold my attention while I was in the throes of young love.

I recently came across SHIFT_theology again, and realized that its a thought progression which is worthy of some consideration. I need to pick that back up.

This ties in nicely with some things in my personal life, too. Early this year I went on a personal retreat to the hillcountry to spend some time in prayer about my life. School had been kicking me in the teeth for about a year, I wasn’t doing well at all. So I had to come to grips with that. And then the part about meeting the coolest girl ever and our future and all that that entails. Life is messy, and I was disconnected.

So you can see, I’ve had some distractions. Something had to change, and I wasn’t finding any answers.

Here’s the main thing, I think. For a long time I thought of Christ, or faith, as something that I *did*. I drive a truck. I eat BBQ. And I worship Christ. And when it was time to worship Christ, I went to church. And while I lived a moral life and was respectful of those around me, Christ wasn’t someone I knew, he was something on my to do list.

Now, I think I had that all wrong. Jesus isn’t a task. My life should not be structured around this set of activities which I ascribe to Him.

So on my retreat I prayed through some stuff. Big stuff, like school and my girlfriend and my career, and how God fits in with all that. I came away with some specific answers to specific questions, which is huge. I think maybe 10% of my prayers are answered, so it was really encouraging and motivating that He chose to answer these prayers.

The result? An amazing thing has happened. Its just overwhelming.

There are the tangible results like me doing well in school and having a great relationship with my girlfriend and not stressing about my finances. But the really good stuff is not tangible. I can’t explain it, other than to say that I’m doing better than I have in maybe 6 or 8 years. I feel more freedom to love the people around me. Life has meaning and wonder again.

I don’t know why God works the way that He does. I’m just glad that I stopped to ponder my life and pray through my priorities. And I would encourage you to do the same.

Study

I’ve been going through this transition and growth period over the past six months, and throughout this time I’ve been praying for a venue to practice what I’ve been learning. About six weeks ago I was talking about some of this stuff with a friend, and she got excited and said that she’s been going through a similar transition. After just a few minutes of conversation it was obvious that we had the same vision for a group study. We agreed to pray about the possibility of leading a study together.

A few weeks go by, and I’m having breakfast with my pastor. In the past he and I have talked about me being involved in ministry in some capacity, and I have declined because I have been recovering from ministry burnout. But this day I mentioned to him that I’m interested in getting back involved in way. He said he’s been talking to my friend, the same one that I mentioned above, and he thinks I’d be a great fit. So at this point, I’m getting really excited.

She and I meet again, and talk through some of the details that we’d want our group to be about, and I have to say, this is exactly what I’ve been praying for.

Our group will be small, intentionally, so that we can develop as a community. And our community will be developed through community service and outreach. We will meet weekly for bible study and prayer, but the difference that I see between this group and others is that we don’t exist so that we can learn more about God’s word. We exist so that we can learn how to live a life of service and community, and the bible study is just one part of that. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be part of a group that doesn’t meet for its own edification.

We’ll start meeting regularly at the end of August, and we’ve already got some really cool people on board. As we ramp up, I’m humbled by how little effort it is taking. Everyone that I’ve spoken to about participating is excited. Right now we’re in the process of picking a specific direction to go in as a group, and there’s a lot of energy. It feels like I’m starting on a new adventure, which is humbling and awesome. If you think about it, pray for us.

Listening to Johnny Cash.

SHIFT_theology

I have indicated a number of times over the past months that my spiritual life has been in flux. Over the past couple of years I have developed a distorted, or handicapped view of my relationship to Christ, though I don’t fully understand how that happened, other than complacency on my part. My relationship to Christ shifted from something meaningful and tangible to something lifeless and academic. Instead of seeking Him through prayer and community, I participated in a number of rules and religious activities.

And it feels really good to recognize this and realize that this isn’t the way the christian life is supposed to be lived. I’m not called to check off boxes as I complete a spiritual obstacle course, none of us are. We’re called to life in Him.

And through this realization my theology has begun to shift. It feels uncomfortable to say that, because on some level it is an admission that I no longer have all of the answers. What I mean is, for a long time I have had an understanding of what it means to be a christian, and what it means to be part of a church, etc. And now, while I still understand what it means to be a christian, I’m struggling with what life in the world is supposed to look like for a christian.

I know, I know. This is huge. And intimidating. But it is also incredibly freeing. Let me break it down into some smaller steps though. Its going to take some time, so this will probably span a number of blog entries. First, I’ll tackle evangelism, because this is the largest shift that I’ve felt, and a lot of the other topics will build on this.

But before I get there, a quick note about what I mean when I say theology. I looked up the definition of the word, and the closest to my meaning is ‘a distinctive body of theological opinion’, which is really no help at all. For the purposes of this article, I mean a collection of beliefs about who God is, how we as individuals relate to Him and how we relate to the world around us.

Now on to evangelism, as promised. I have been a christian for most of my life. And all this time I have never been excited about evangelizing. It feels too much like sales. I have even been taught to ask for a statement of faith a couple of times. That just gives me the creeps, it’s not the way to treat people. I hate it when someone tries to sell me something, and I don’t want to sell anyone else anything. And, because of telemarketers and spam and shifty car salesmen, most people in the western hemisphere are no longer willing to be sold anything.

The people that annoy me the most are the ones that shout about heaven and hell, eternal damnation, seeing the light, and on and on. I don’t want to be associated with that. Last month I ran into this guy standing on a busy intersection two days in a row. He went on and on about his past sins, and how he could help everyone else give up their sinful lifestyle. What a jerk! First, it’s a huge assumption to presume that anyone hearing him believes that they’re sinful. And second, supposing they do believe that, why on earth would they accept that this one loud, arrogant individual would have any answers for them? He asked me if I was sure that I’m going to heaven. I didn’t want anything to do with whatever conversation came from that question, so I walked off without a word.

If I were in the process of questioning my faith, or working through my thoughts on Jesus, this guy would have given me a strong push in the other direction. And if I already had a bone to pick with evangelicals, he would have only added fuel to my fire.

But there is also something deeper than that at work. In sharing the gospel, many christians are seeking affirmation of the choices and beliefs, in the same way that you might tell another about your favorite band or TV show in hopes that they’ll think your taste is hip. This is more subtle, but no less true. Donald Miller has written a fair amount on this topic in his book Searching for God Knows What.

Having said all of that, I do believe that all christians are called to share their faith. So then, what is this supposed to look like? Not to be trite, I think it has more to do with ‘sharing your faith’ than making a sales pitch. Conversations about Jesus should be just that, conversations with give and take, questions on both sides, and the freedom to walk away from the conversation at any point with no hard feelings. No one is right, no one is wrong, its a free exchange of ideas.

Okay fine, but what if no one comes to faith this way? If we aren’t out in the world bringing people to faith, then who will be Jesus’ closer? That’s the whole point, in one simple question, right there. No one.

As followers of Christ, we are compelled to share our faith. But we are not in the business of saving or condemning souls. Put simply, the fate of others’ hearts is not our concern. Jesus makes this clear in his teaching. Twice in Luke 13 he tells His followers not to worry about the sins of others, but rather to focus on their own salvation. And again at the end John 21, when Peter asks him a direct question about the fate of one of his followers, Jesus’ response is, “what business is that of yours? You worry about you!”

The takeaway from all of this is that as christians we need to be sharing our faith. And that’s the end of it. God can take it from there.

I’ve just started reading Foolishness to the Greeks by Lesslie Newbigin, which is on the topic of missions in modern western culture. I’m sure that I’ll have more thoughts on this in the future. But my next blog entry on theology will be about interactions with church and other believers. If my thoughts about evangelism are accurate, then they will have a direct effect on how we as christians relate to one another.

Questions and comments are strongly encouraged. In a way, the questions and comments that this post prompts are more important than the point I’m trying to make. By talking with one another and asking questions, we all benefit and grow.

Millertarian

Okay, so I’ve been working for the past couple of weeks on a post to explain why I like Donald Miller‘s work so much. The essay keeps growing and growing, I think its something like four pages long right now. I just read it again this morning, and it turns out that I’m just presenting his ideas in my own language, which is not exactly what I intended. So, I’m starting over, and I’m going to keep it short this time.

Prior to me reading Blue Like Jazz, I had been struggling with my own faith. I even blogged about it here in January. Christianity had somehow moved from a meaningful relationship with Jesus to a collection of rules about what to do and what not to do. So when I started reading his work I had a lot of questions, I was hungry for truth.

Most of his material resonates with me strongly. Miller brings up a number of things that I have been feeling, he explains things that I didn’t even realize I was bothered by. For example, I don’t like evangelizing. I have shared my faith before, but it always makes me feel like I’m involved in some multi-level marketing scheme. Turns out, I’m not alone, Miller has the same concern. And he helped me understand why I was feeling this way. This is only one small example.

I have also read Searching for God Knows What. I personally liked Blue Like Jazz more, but there is one chapter in Searching for God Knows What that I think every christian should read.

In chapter 14, he compares the message of the gospel to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, and the parallels are striking. Who would have thought that Shakespeare was a prophet? When I was finished reading that chapter I had to stop and spend some time in prayer because it gave me a fresh perspective on who Jesus is and why I want to be a christian.

Miller’s work has had an effect on me. In response to all of this, I decided to try a different church last weekend. Not because I’m looking for a new church, but just because I don’t want my life to be formulaic. Sunday night I went to Mosaic, and it was one of the most inspiring worship services I have attended in years. I plan to go again.

I guess what I’m saying is that Donald Miller’s books have helped me understand why or how I ended up in this frustrating place in my spiritual life. And he also helped me understand the cure, love Jesus.

Ha ha, this is the short version.

Raw Faith

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my lack of faith, and my desire to re-kindle it. This is a slow process.

I have committed to a bible study with a couple of other guys that are in a similar place spiritually. We met to discuss the study, and what we wanted to get from it, and everyone was on the same page. Our first meeting will be in a couple of weeks. Thanks God for the body of Christ.

I am keeping a prayer journal. None of my prayers have been answered yet, but I’m not praying for small things, so I’m not frustrated by this. I have, however, learned two things through this. First, if I want affirmation that He is present in my life, then it is little use to pray for things that I know are going to happen. I need to pray for the ability to move mountains and see how He works in me through that prayer. Maybe He’ll answer and maybe not, but I benefit from it either way. Second, I have been reminded that the point of prayer is not for me to list my desires or vent all of my gripes. The point of it all is to commune with Him. Shame on me for thinking of him as some cosmic butler.

I have also been reading Search for Significance. This has been the most helpful to date. McGee talks about the various things that motivate us in our thought patterns and actions, and then debunks them with the message of the gospel. God loves you, period. If you have any questions about that, then remember; God loves you, period.

As I indicated in my previous post, I’ve been a christian for several years. Somehow I have moved past the gospel. Not intentionally or even consciously, but sadly that’s the truth. I have hidden from God because of sin (that He has already forgiven), and I have tried to earn my position in christianity through service, biblical knowledge and “being a good person.” Its not hard to see how I ended up in this train wreck.

Today, I am thankful for God’s grace. I hope that I have the presence of mind to be thankful for it tomorrow, too.

I Don’t Trust God

I am a christian, which is to say that I trust Christ as my savior. And yet, over the past several months I have not been living for him. I am saved by grace and fueled by egocentrism. What a mess!

I do not mean that I am necessarily pursuing things that are not of Christ. I’m sure that if an outsider were to observe my life, that I might appear quite holy. I attend church regularly, I am part of a bible study group, I read scripture regularly, I participate in a Christian community, and I pray.

What I mean is that Christ has not been the central focus of my life. While I do all of the things listed above, I do them at my convenience, not as part of a disciplined lifestyle. When I don’t feel like attending church, I skip. When I’m too tired to pray, I don’t. When scripture doesn’t hold my attention, I put my bible down. And probably more serious, I haven’t prayed about many of the large decisions in my life. The result is that I am no longer passionate about most of what I’m doing, I’m just going through the motions.

This shift wasn’t immediate. It has been a gradual change over a period of years. I guess the lesson for me in this is that my feelings follow my actions. Much as with any relationship, if I want to be excited about my time with the Lord, then I need to invest myself. And if I passively attend church or read the bible, then I won’t get much from it.

I need to turn this around. In spite of my lack of faith, I do believe that God cares about the details of my life, and I also believe that I’m the one that pays the price when I let this slip.

I find encouragement in scripture. Abraham is noted as a man of faith (Heb 11:8-17), and yet he didn’t trust that God could provide a child through his wife Sarah, so he had his first son through her maidservant (Gen 16). Also, David, though he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam 11), is called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

I don’t take from these passages that I’m going to end up being a spiritual giant, or necessarily be remembered for my faith. But rather, if these great men can slip and still be considered valuable in the eyes of God, then that’s great news for you & me!

So, I have a plan. I’m reading scripture on a regular basis, I’m keeping a prayer journal, and I am starting to be intentional about discussing my spiritual condition with those that are close to me. This is one of my goals for 2005, to get my spiritual life back on track.