Category Archives: Theology

An Unbelieving Believer

I once thought I understood God—who he is and what he does. After several years of undergraduate and graduate level study in the theological disciplines, I thought I had God figured out. Unaware that I was constructing a box far too small to hold God (no box is big enough)—I developed my own ideas of what God could and/or would do, or not do. In other words, I made up a god in my own image and replaced the real One with a poor limited imitation.

Oh, I knew a great many facts and figures that related to God—I just didn’t know God very well. I had met him early in my life and he had forgiven me of sin and given me eternal life. But, the problem was relational—He knew me—but I only knew about him. Facts and figures, theologies that make excuses for God, and countless other pursuits that should lead us to God, but often leave us lost in the high grass—filled my life. It was by all accounts a very dry, frustrating time. I was seeking wisdom…just not searching for God.One sacred rabbit trail after another finally led me down a dead-end passage way into a crisis of faith—a God-wall erected to eliminate my ability to flee. It worked…God got my attention. I realized I was dry and dead on the inside—full of knowledge, but possessing little wisdom. I was in effect an unbelieving believer.

I knew all the arguments and could quote them from memory as to why God no longer acted in our day like he had in the distant past. They were well-thought out theologies, just honed in the fires of unbelief instead of faith. They were human attempts to explain “why,” when the “why” rested on the threshold of a faithless church rather than a faithful God.

A crisis by nature forces you to choose. The definition of idiocy is doing the same thing and expecting something new to happen. I may be a lot of things, but I choose not to be an idiot. I cried out to God. I confessed my pharisaical and religious tendency to try and explain an otherwise unexplainable God. I repented—that is, I returned to the God of my childhood—the God who had saved me with supernatural power through grace, and became like a little child again. My only request was, “God, I hunger to know you!

Today, almost fifteen years later, God has yet to disappoint me. The God of the Bible, the One who brings life out of death has not changed one iota. He is still just as powerful today, as he was in the days of Moses or Elijah. He is still doing the things today that he did in the early days of the church. His power is limitless. The difference is I have accepted the plain truth of the Scriptures—God is God and I’m not—I don’t have to know why, when, or how anyhow. Instead I choose to believe the impossible because the God I am in relationship with does not have that word in his vocabulary. With God all things are possible.

Are you an unbelieving believer? Do you have a nice, neat theological system that can explain everything about God? Do you worship a god who lives in a little box of your own construction? If so, then the god you are chasing does not exist and the sooner you recognize that, the better off you will be. Go ahead mash the gas as hard as you like, but you will crash into that God-wall at some point. Perhaps then…like me you will become a believing believer.

The Pursuit of Humility

The greatest single element missing in the 2011 edition of the Church is the precious attribute of humility. It is the essential building block needed in constructing a character of obedience to and a love for Christ, as well as the people around us. Its glaring absence seems to cast a long, dark shadow of serious doubt on anything else we claim to personally believe, publicly witness, or practically carry out in our communities. The alter ego—the hideous Mr. Hyde—the dark side of humility is arrogant pride and sadly, the church is filled with enough of this to permanently choke the life out the 9.6 billion people presently living on this blue-green planet.

Humility for most of us is like catching a fistful of wind or a handful of water. Once we’re convinced we have achieved it we find it has vanished through our fingers. The reason is simple: humility is not something you add to your collection of achievements, rather it is a choice you make—moment by moment—in that painful process of dying to yourself. We enter this world selfish, self-centered, and self-consumed. All we think about as infants is what we want. Truth is, we could care less about the rest of the little Johnnies and Jennies scattered around us. If you doubt this, visit a nursery or pre-school and quietly observe the little human inhabitants that populate it. No one teaches us to grab for what we want or scream for that holy grail of someone’s personal attention—we are born with that defective DNA. It’s a gift from the original inhabitants of the Garden. Sadly, we carry that with us as we mature emotionally, as well as spiritually. This terrible tendency does not miraculously evaporate just because Christ comes to live in us. We have to kill it; and believe me, its death will be a bloody one.

Humility is hard to define, but we all know it when we see it. Its presence refreshes us like water on the parched lips of a thirsty soul. Its encouragement pushes us to reach for more than we ever thought possible. Its validation empowers us to be everything God intended. Humility has a way of bringing forth the best of what we were created to be. It is a catalyst for real life—the quality and nature of that life Jesus died and arose to impart to us.

No man or woman is more like Jesus than in those moments when humility guides their actions and attitudes. It is cultivated, not acquired, through the seasons of our life as we willingly exchange what we desperately crave for what Jesus longs to give. As we surrender those areas of our will to His will, His kingdom comes in our lives and humility takes root and produces the sweet fruit of selfless service. Selfless simply means less of me and more of Him.

Perhaps that is the ultimate definition of humility—“me” dies and He lives in and through me. Perhaps it would do us all good to remember that if we confess Christ as Savior and Lord, it means we were crucified with Christ. For me that means I died the day Christ came to live in me. The goal of crucifixion was death, and as far as I know, not one person ever climbed down from a cross. I no longer have a right to what I want or what I need. Rather, Christ is set free to do in and through me whatever He wills because I am dead and the dead offer no resistance.

A life marked by humility has an aroma that attracts both the dying and the desperate and offers a quality and quantity of life that can be found in no other place. To be a person of no reputation allows the reputation of the risen and living Lord to be lived out in a vibrancy of color that nothing else in creation can rival.

The first step to humility is the transfer of personal value. That is, everyone else must become more important than we think we are. That, my friend, is a bloody decision to embrace death. If you think not—just try it.

Unsettled: A New Address

Snow globes were meant to be shaken. Those dream landscapes suspended in liquid and encapsulated under glass were never meant to sit on a shelf like other knick knacks collecting dust. The purpose of the globe was to be unsettled—turned upside down. It is only in the agitation that the beauty of the snow, glitter, or sparkles is released. The quaking and shaking unveil the dream of its designer as the magic is released, picking up glints of shimmering light. Here the scene comes to life. But most snow globes are only stirred up a few times, and then they find themselves sitting on a ledge in a curio cabinet, under the socks at the back of a drawer, or swallowed up with the broken and shattered toys that eventually migrate to the bottom of the toy box. Here it languishes and finally disappears.

Unsettled is the address of a happy snow globe, but for most of us it is a dark back alley in the wrong part of town. It’s an address to visit only at gunpoint. We avoid the feeling of unsettled at all costs. That uncertainty upsets the stomach and creates what seems like panic. That agitated state dislodges the paralysis of thinking that we are in control.

God created us to be like snow globes. We were designed with His beauty in every aspect of our makeup, but for that to be released He must unsettle us. We tend to retire to the curio cabinet where the landscape that is our belief system is static—in place—everything under control. We tend to become what we believe. So, on occasion, He challenges what we have become by shaking up the things we believe.

Once a snow globe is shaken, the scene on the inside is changed forever. It will never be exactly the same because that which is shaken settles into a different pattern every time, revealing a different view for the discerning eye. That’s the beauty of its design and that’s the ultimate goal of its designer.

God is shaking me. I am unsettled in many areas of my spiritual life. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving, and down-right scary at times. The only solace I have is that in this unsettled state, I am somehow accomplishing the purpose for which I was designed. When the shaking stops and the snowflakes eventually come to rest, I will not be the same person I was. That’s a good thing because it reminds me that I am not in control—He is. And I can take confidence in this as well: if God is shaking my theological foundations and belief system, when it is over and the flakes of snow settle once again, they will be closer to His.

Perhaps yours are fixed—etched in stone and based on your unshakeable truth. If so, enjoy the shelf, the sock drawer, the curio cabinet, or the clutter of the toy box where you find yourself. You may have arrived…but at the wrong address.

Sorry I missed you, I’ve moved to a new address—unsettled.

Musings from a Madman or Wisdom from a Warrior

I hate death. I hate it with all my being. Those words may seem rather strong, but I really can’t write in words how strongly I do feel—the words I would like to use are rather coarse and might come back to haunt me if I ever decide to run for President. I don’t fear it; I simply hate it.

I hate what it does to people. Death separates and leaves so many questions unanswered. It confuses and produces chaos in families and friends. It leaves an aroma of helplessness and a taste of hopelessness in many. It turns life upside down and inside out. Death never builds up; it always destroys.

Death is not our friend. It is not the doorway to Jesus or the hallway to heaven. As living beings made in the image and likeness of God, death is our mortal enemy. It stalks us step by step from the time we arrive on this planet until the day we leave. Its appetite is insatiable—always devouring but never getting its fill. Death is not natural or supernatural; rather, it is strangely unnatural. Nothing about it mirrors the Artist who designed this creation.

God hates it even more than I do. He didn’t provide a place for it at creation, and it was never a part of His plan. I know there are some junior theologians who might want to argue that, but save your proof texts and your hypothetical hypotheses until God’s in town lecturing at the local cemetery…I mean seminary.

God never intended rolling hillsides to be populated with the graves of His precious ones or grassy green fields to be littered with solemn granite stones shouting long forgotten names etched above entrance and exit dates. It was never His intent that we gaze into a coffin or gather at a gravesite, or wear the drab black of mourning on a beautiful Fall day. He did not create it nor will He tolerate it forever.

Death’s genesis and the fuel that feeds it is sin—the sin of all of us from Adam down to this very moment. The road out of Eden for many seems to have become a dead end on death’s dark cul-de-sac, but it’s not. God has made a provision. He has built a road back from the grave’s empty abyss, paved with the blood of His precious Son, Jesus. All who walk that road pass from death into life. On that road, the specter of death becomes a powerless shadow without a light to sustain it. Therefore, in hopelessness there is hope—a confident expectation—that the end is not really the end. We may have to experience death, but we don’t have to accept it or even like it. It’s alright for me to hate it—God hates it too.

All those palatable phrases we use to describe death are strangely absent from the Scriptures. There, death is called sin’s paycheck, or my all-time personal favorite—the last enemy. Death is God’s enemy, a rebellious one, yes—but not a formidable one. There’s no doubt as to death’s final destination. God will abolish it, nullify it, and destroy it. Imagine that—the destroyer of life will be destroyed by the Living One, and we who have endured its sting will be able to watch that destruction as death is pitched headlong into hell, along with all its rowdy friends (the grave, the devil, and all his angels).

Don’t despair! Don’t give up! A day is coming when all those hillsides and field marked with cement crosses and granite stones will become subdivision lots for luxury homes in the kingdom of God. On that day you can join me as we taunt death with the Holy Spirit’s version of Rammer Jammer: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”

Wake Up Sleeping Beauty (part 9)

The Bride of Christ has something stuck in her throat. Her face is slowly turning blue as she silently chokes to death on what appears to be a big ole wad of rebellion. That tantalizing taste of the dragon’s fruit has lodged like a chicken bone and turned into a deadly partnership with the devil. With a mouth full of mutiny, her message is muted.

The gospel of the kingdom has the power to change the American landscape if it is accurately and actively proclaimed. The Church was commissioned to preach the whole counsel of the Lord—all of it—not just what feels good, calms the special interest groups, or has been approved by denominational demigods. Jesus was very clear in his last words to his followers. Many of us know this as the Great Commission, but sadly it has become our Great Omission. Listen carefully to what the Lord says in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” The problem here is Jesus commanded us to teach all, not just the sections we like, understand, or believe. All means all and that’s all it means. All includes everything whether or not I agree with it or even want to do it. To do less is outright rebellion. It is anarchy against our King.

The prophet Jonah found himself choking on rebellion when he refused to preach the message God had given to him for the people of Nineveh. He caught a cruise ship going in the opposite direction (note: we may have booked passage on the same vessel) and promptly nodded off in the darkness below deck. Like Sleeping Beauty, he fell sound asleep and became deaf to the cries of those who were perishing all around him. The truth is, if you really listen to the hopelessness in the cries of those who are doomed in their current condition, it will probably turn your present little house of theology upside down and should spur you to share what Christ has done for you. This is biblical theology and will build a far better home than rebellion.

Jonah’s theology, an aberrant one about him and all those who were like him, was a very selfish one, so he slept peacefully—deaf to their cries. He was content with his version of who God should be rather than with the reality of who God was. And it bothered him little (actually it did not bother him at all) that thousands of men, women, and children were headed for destruction with their final destination being hell. Jonah simply did not care.

Rebellion will do that. It will harden our hearts and silence our voices, but in our refusal to proclaim the Bridegroom’s glorious message we slowly strangle not on the rebellion, but on the words of life we refuse to speak.