Live with Faith

There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the topic of faith. We struggle with its meaning. We wrestle with its function. We debate how it looks. We argue over how it relates to salvation. I have been struggling through faith in a way. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Some people say they have a crisis of faith, and mean that they struggle with determining whether the very core of their beliefs are still true. This is not what I am referring to in myself.

I find it can be a struggle to live a life that has faith as the focus. In this context I am referring more towards living my life in a way that implements the Biblical truths of trusting in the Lord for anything that might arise. The only thing the temporary future guarantees for anyone is uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. There is no sense in ignoring that fact. People try to. For some reason it is easy for us to get into our head that faith means no acknowledgment of things in the world that are scary.

Fear is inevitable, but it is how we respond to that fear. Psalm 112 states that the righteous man does not fear bad news. His eyes are fixed on God. The Psalm does not guarantee bad news is absent in the life of the believer. In fact, it expects it to be guaranteed. It expects that life is going to be hard, but it also expects that someone who trust in the Lord will choose to focus on the creator who can deal with the struggles that arise rather than be paralyzed in facing the problem itself.

We often looking at a life of faith as having that one big moment that shows our great extent of faith. Once we bank a couple of those we don’t need to worry about the big faith moments anymore. It took a great deal of faith for me to move halfway across the country on my own to live in Kansas for ministry. It took even more faith for me to move back to Virginia with a family and no job. It felt like I had made my big faith moments. I shouldn’t need to have any others. That is not how a life of faith works though.

A life of faith is not comprised of the giant moments. It is comprised of every moment. It is filled with the moments of forgoing losing a temper out of fear when the unknown is crashing in. it is the resistance to feed off of anxiety when trouble shows its ugly head. It is knowing that everyone will answer for what they are responsible for, and only worrying about what God is holding you responsible for. It is about being able to look at some of the worst humanity may have to offer, but come home to kiss your wife and children knowing you are set to live a life that can provide a better world for them.

When Christ was at the garden before his crucifixion he did not ignore that what he faced was difficult. He didn’t even deny that it was scary. The fear was not the focus though. He looked past the fear and towards the Father. He chose to trust.

I have realized as craziness swarms around me that I have had the ugly attitude of wondering why I face more uncomfortableness now. Didn’t I just have another big faith moment? That is not how faith works. Faith is a constant. It is looking at the world in its bitter greed and hostility, but yet knowing that your mission remains firm. A new kingdom is coming. We may not see it in all of its glory, but at times we can catch glimpses of it. We catch glimpses in people banding together to provide and encourage those who are struggling. We see it in a church who cares for someone in need. We see it in the love of a family. We catch those glimpses as a reminder that the faith is not in vain. The race will not be lost.

I have no idea what even the next few days will bring, but a life of faith does not require me to. The struggles will be there, but it does not demand a loss of temper. It does not require to be driven by fear. It does not force me to stop enjoying the sweetness of life. Instead, it will forever remain an opportunity to turn to God and follow the example of my savior as I say, “Not my will, but yours.”

Tales of Persecution: Sanctus “I Am a Christian”

His name was Sanctus. He lived under the Rule of Marcus Aurelius. This was a man who came to power in Rome in A.D. 161. It should have been a time of peace for Christianity. Marcus did not seem to be a man of evil intent. This was a man who called his people to do everything with dignity, kindness, and justice. Yet the church found him to be another man bent on its destruction. This same man who called for kindness decreed that Christian should be persecuted. Christians like Sanctus.

This period of persecution is filled with stories of men and women well known by Church Historians. The one that still regularly comes to my mind is the story of Sanctus. We learn of this man from a letter written be the churches in Lyons and Vienne. We learn in this letter that the persecution started small. Christian were merely forbidden to avoid the public, but the mob mentality developed. Christians found themselves arrested and tried. The letter says the persecution was sudden. One moment there was silence, and the next the mob took over. Like a bolt of lightning Christians found themselves facing torture and death.

This unexpected persecution became too much for some in the church to handle. We learn that Christians turned away from the faith in hopes that they would be spared from the mob. We may shake our heads at this, but it is important to understand the conditions these men and women were in. Writers back then claim that the Christians were stored away in spaces that were so crowded that some died from suffocation before they ever even made it to their execution. The temptation to turn away was great, and a noticeable amount took advantage of it.

Then there was Sanctus. He was put to torture. His persecutors demanded him to denounce his faith. With each beating his answer remained the same “I am a Christian.” Those are the only four words we have record of him saying in response to their demands. The more he was beaten the more persistent he spoke them. He spoke with such determination and fire that those who had just abandoned their faith found themselves turning back and echoing his claim. “I am a Christian.” His boldness in faith gave others the courage to not only recant their denouncement of the Christian faith, but to die as martyrs for their belief as well.

Centuries later we still speak of Sanctus today. His boldness in remaining firm while facing persecution speaks to our hearts. It also pushes me to ask myself a question. Do I live out my faith in a way that affects those around me? Am I an encouragement to those around me who may be wavering in their faith? We don’t know every detail about the life of Sanctus, but we do know about this moment. It was his final moment, and ultimately it was the one that history has deemed important to leave as a mark for future generations. It was a moment of faith that was so great that it actually called for the fallen to return unto death. We should remember his story and the sacrifice involved, but we should also challenge ourselves with asking how we are living our lives to inspire faithfulness in others.

The Defining Moment

I have written on Daniel and his boldness of prayer before. That post focused more on how we tend to highjack Daniel’s story, and convince ourselves that he was a bold zealot who fought against authority. His story has been making the rounds again lately as an example over various events taking place in our world today. I can understand the comparisons, and cannot say I know enough to say whether or not that comparison is even right or wrong. Daniel did not shy away from his commitment to God within his position in the local government. He remained firm to his convictions, and had an incredibly defining moment. A moment where he prayed to God when it was against the law. The consequence was to be thrown into a den of lions.

I think we still miss a lot when we just focus on Daniel’s defiance. I have said that before on this blog, but it seems important to repeat. It is so easy for us to look at Daniel in his one defining moment, but the simple truth is that this is incredibly misleading for us to view Daniel as an example. Growing up I would hear these stories, and wonder if I would be prepared to have that one big defining moment. Those moments in America are rare. We think they are prevalent, but not compared to the countless Christians around the world who are literally being killed for their faith every day.

Here is was the problem with my thinking, or at least one of the problems. Daniel did not have on big moment. Daniel’s story is about having a defining lifestyle. Daniel was consistent with his prayer. He prayed three times a day in the same way. It was not out of rebellion to the authority above him. Daniel was praying long before it was illegal to pray. That is the real trick. Daniel didn’t suddenly become a loyal believer of God after it was dangerous to do so. His consistency is what made it feasible to remain faithful when danger presented itself.

Our lives are filled with opportunities for small defining moments. These will be moments that will shape our character and faith. Daniel’s faith was seen to be so strong that his enemies needed to find a way to make it be a weakness. They still failed to succeed.

We often look at people who have one singular defining moment that gets them either in the media, quoted on the internet, or in some other way recognized for appearing daring for their faith. We are so obsessed with seeing these big moments, but often forget the little ones. It is the little moments that produce consistency, and point to a higher purpose.

Here is the simple truth, Daniel would have been perfectly fine to have never been caught for praying in his room, it would not have bothered him if his story was never recorded in Scripture, and it didn’t seem to bother him when it seemed a certainty that his story was going to end being eaten by a lion. Daniel wasn’t doing it to be recognized for the big moment. Daniel was remaining faithful because he was part of a people that had gotten into this mess for a disastrous level of unfaithfulness to God. His prayers were prayers of begging God for forgiveness and mercy. His defining moments were the ones that were never actually written about because those were the ones who made him who he was.

Why I Love Church History

Last week I sat with my father to conduct an interview for one of my current courses. If you are new to reading this blog then you are likely unaware of my background. I am currently working on my Master of Divinity in Church History. The course I am working on is covering American Christianity. The project I am working on requires me to write the history of a local church. Naturally I chose my father’s church. This post is about that experience, and why I enjoy and appreciate the importance of studying church history.

There is a good deal I already knew about my dad’s church. I grew up in it, and saw more than most did. I saw the ups and downs. I witnessed the joys and the stresses for my dad. The moments of the church would have a profound effect on me, because it would simply have a significant effect on my family as a whole. Listening to that churches story was like listening to a part of my own story.

That is what is so fascinating to me about church history. I am learning about my own heritage. Sometimes that history is from hundreds of years ago, and sometimes it is from just decades ago, but the impact remains the same. I come from a rich heritage in my family, and in the ancestors of my faith.

We don’t think about that very often. We rarely take the time to stop and think of the battles our spiritual ancestors have had to fight. We fail to take the time to thank God for giving His ever guiding presence throughout history. It’s rather odd. Perhaps we mistakenly assume deep down that God’s interaction with history essentially ended when the book of Acts finishes. Perhaps we act as thought we are now left on our own to our own devices, but that is just not the case. God is still active in that history, and we now live as part of that history.

As I interviewed my father I found myself looking at him a little differently. I noticed the wrinkles of age more than I used to. I noticed his body being a bit more weathered down by the passing of time, but the fire and intelligence in his eyes burning as bright as ever. His worn hands telling silent stories of the years of service provided. The liens across his face showing battles and victories on a spiritual plain that is nearly impossible to notice without the most intentional of commitments.

I look at my father, and I see such a significant part of my history. A good deal of who I am is due to this man, and the church environment he helped cultivate. I owe a great deal to him, and I find myself looking to him with immense admiration. Seeing his humble spirit in letting God work through him. I found myself realizing that I don’t show my appreciation and gratitude for that enough. This spiritual tapestry is woven into my family tree. They often seem intertwined, and that is what makes it all so special for me.

It may seem insignificant, or even random, but I look at the hundreds of years of history that make me who I am with immense joy. I see God’s hand in it all, and it reminds me that He is still active in those moments. I see the hardships that my heritage has face, and realize that my struggles are no kind of surprise for God.

This is why my passion for church history is so big. It is my history. It tells my story, and teaches me the part I get to play in the churches story as well. I encourage you to spend some time learning your history. Read about the history of your faith that extends thousands of years, but also learn about your spiritual history in the recent past. Learn about the heritage of your family faith whether it be biological, or simply in your local church.

Trust

Trust in God has been a topic that has come up for me a lot lately. It is has been in devotionals, sermons, and is even playing a prominent part of a sermon I will be preaching next week. Its emphasis has been so pronounced lately that it seemed only right to briefly share about it on this blog.

The name of this blog is utterly dependent. It has always been the name since starting this thing a ways back. When I thought of this name it just fit. It fit because it was what I always wished to strive for. I wanted to have complete dependency on God. I want to rely on Him, because I wanted that level of relationship. Have that kind of dependence requires a powerful dose of trust.

There is a question that has been presented to me in the midst of all this topic of trust. Do you believe that God is good? In all seriousness. Do you really believe that? I’m not talking about the kind of belief where you saw you believe it because you are pretty certain you know what the right answer is supposed to be. I am talking about in your heart of hearts, in the core of who you are, do you truly believe that God is good? We can trust a God that we do not truly believe is good, because sooner or later we just expect to get left in the dust if we do not really believe He is good.

An elder at our church gave the sermon today, and he made a really profound statement. Loving God is not the belief that God loves you. Isn’t that interesting to think about? When we are asked if we love God our answers often wraps around the idea that we believe God loves us, so yes we do love God. There is a problem with that mindset though. There will be times where our circumstances may make things appear different than what they actually are. There are moments where we do not feel loved by God because of whatever is happening to us.

The sooner we acknowledge that problem, and get past our embarrassment of feeling that way the sooner we can actually do something about it. Trust comes easier with experience, but it needs to start with a lack of it. I often hear people say how they wish someone would just give them a chance even though they do not have the experience for it. “I wish someone would give me a chance at this job.” “I wish that girl would just give me a chance and go to coffee with me.” Why are we so hesitant to give God a chance? Is it because we have not had enough experience of him pulling through in times of great need?

Here is the problem. That trust can only be developed by allowing there to be opportunities in your life for God to come through. We always talk about how God turns our weakness into strength, but we never actually talk about what that means. What if Trust in God, loving him, and weakness become strength were all intricately connected? What if strength simply meant trust?

By refusing there to be an opportunity for trust to go we are stopping an opportunity for God to strengthen us and subsequently expand our trust in Him, and grow our love for Him. It means taking that leap of faith everyone always talks about. It means placing that dependence on Him even if you may not quite have that experience with it yet. It means you have a choice. Refuse those first few moments of trust and thus remain stagnant, or open up your trust little by little until its borders disappear on the horizon.

Who is this man?

“Who is this man that even the seas and winds obey him?”

A profound question that is ultimately the one question constantly repeated in the gospels. If you have to form the point to the gospels in one questions it would be “Who is Jesus?” This was a question asked following a traumatic experience for Jesus disciples. Stuck on a little boat in the middle of a storm. They panicked. They feared death. They thought they had reached the end. In the midst of the fear they saw Jesus sleeping through this storm. They doubted Jesus. They doubted His power. They doubted His care for them. They doubted the very essence of who Jesus is. Here were a group of men who doubted this Jesus compassion. This same Jesus who would later die on a cross for them.

I think we all have a tendency to ask this question in moments of doubt. Who is Jesus? The answer to this question often depends on our mood and circumstances. During depressing and dark times we may behave as though Jesus was a man from those stories long ago at best. At worst Jesus is a careless God who has no interest in our sufferings. During good times we believe Jesus to be our best friend. We may feel we know Him well, and feel well known by Him.

Our circumstances and moods should not define who Jesus is in our lives though. Jesus is who is no matter our feelings in the moment. Our feelings and circumstances can produce doubt that has no business being in our hearts. Jesus responded to these disciples question by telling them they lacked faith. If this response doesn’t hit you hard then you need to meditate on it again.

Doubt in who Jesus is means we have an issue of faith. Doubting God’s provision is a faith issue. It’s embarrassing how often I do this though. Who is Jesus? He is my savior. He died on the cross for my sins. He paid my debt. He was nailed to a cross where he bled and cried out in pain.

Who is Jesus? He is a servant. He was the most humble man to ever walk on this earth. He humbled himself so much that he took the form of a man who was tired, hungry, thirsty, felt pain, and even cried. His servanthood is the epitome of service that I hunger to emulate in my work, as a friend, as a father, and as a husband.

Who is Jesus? He is my king. I am created to be His servant. I am called to follow Him no matter the cost. He is the only one truly worth following. He is Lord over everything. Nothing I possess does not already belong to him. My very body is His possession. He may have been a sacrifice, but He is still a king. He may be the greatest servant of all, but that only enhances is status as king of kings.

Who is Jesus? Well I guess you could say He is my everything. He is the reason that I live. He is the reason that I do anything good on this earth. No circumstances or moods should change that truth. Nothing in life should change who Jesus is. Christ is unchanging. Why should we ever let our circumstances change that? Anything less is a lack of faith.

The rule of tolerance

Sometimes I get tired of being forced into playing by rules of the world that creators fail to follow themselves. I’m not a fan of the rule of tolerance, because inevitably people like me are the only ones who are actually required to follow that rule. It is acceptable and considered still tolerant to mock my faith as outdated, mythological, for the incompetent, evil, foolish, unfit for society, etc. However, it is intolerant when I share anything about my personal faith even when it is done to give clarification on people who use a strawman argument to make their lives a little easier.

It just bothers me to no end sometimes. Tebow has been facing a lot of these frustrations after removing a speaking engagement at a church that was hit for being anti-gay. Now my old school, and soon to be once again current school, is facing a lot of those same statements with Tebow coming there to speak. People say all the students there are homophobic. They apparently have no respect for women because they don’t agree with abortion. The world is allowed to say these things, but the minute I were to say abortion is wrong I would become labeled with being intolerant. The moment I say something about my faith that sounds exclusive I am being labeled intolerant because I am not openly welcoming anyone of any belief. We get called intolerant by the same people who will shun us until we leave our faith, or pretend as though it never exists. Religion is only for the household. Your beliefs can only be important in your home. Everyone else is allowed to hold to their beliefs no matter where they are in the world, but it is Christianity that is forced to stay inside their homes and churches. We are the ones who must be open minded and listen to opposing views quietly and obediently. Anything less is intolerant. I’m tired of following those rules.

Does this rant sound familiar? Have you been making this rant in your own head on occasion? It’s easy to develop a foul mood towards the world. It would be so easy to just blow up out the ultimate example of hypocrisy that this world throws at us and respond to them with the full level of intolerance that they show us. It would be easy to respond in anger, and seeking revenge. We wish to be the swift bringers of karma. We treat the world like a war zone and all non-believers are the enemy. I just want to share a few things that I force to think about when I come close to giving into my anger at the world’s hypocrisy on the rule of tolerance.

1. “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they are doing.” This is an incredibly powerful statement made by Christ during his crucifixion. Even in death Christ is portraying a spirit of forgiveness. I have to admit that I do not possess the forgiving heart that I should towards others who slander me, and mock me for my faith. Frankly, the treatment I receive is nothing next to what Christ faced. We need to remember that while everyone is personally responsible for their sin, they are hopelessly lost without a savior, and are incapable of breaking out of a slavery to sin.

2. They are not the enemy. We say this all the time. Sinners are not the enemy. Do we believe this to be true though? Do we prove it when we lose all patience with sinners? Do we prove it when we respond with mockery and sarcasm? Do we prove it when we respond in a spirit that is clearly going to shut them down from hearing anything we actually have to say? Sinners aren’t the enemy; they are the captives in the war zone. This is the one area where I will actually say the true enemy is a blatant coward. They have no shame in hiding behind their hostages.

3. Jesus Christ is a stumbling block. It’s true. The gospel is the only thing that matters, but it is offensive. It tells us we have not lived our lives to the standard that is required of us. It tells us there is an absolute truth, and we have lived against it. The gospel itself is exclusive. We don’t need to add exclusivity to the gospel. We don’t need to label fellow Christians on how much they follow the “true gospel” based off how conservative they are. We need to stop adding extra requirements to the gospel that simply don’t exist.

4. Salvation is a journey. At least I know my story was one. In a way it still is a journey. Now the chapters are simply just what I am becoming after salvation. We actually get to play a part in the salvation journey of others. I think this is one of the coolest gifts God has given us.

5. We aren’t out to save the world. We simply aren’t capable of it. We are simply making ourselves available to show the world what it is missing. I hope that when I die people won’t remember me for a list of rules I followed or a set of ideas I disagreed with. I want to be known as a guy who loved people because He loved God. Will that legacy ruffle some feathers? If done properly it will have to, but it is also the legacy that I am confident will have the greatest impact for good.

Don’t respond in wrath during these moments of frustration. Don’t fire off a facebook post you will regret. Don’t try and build up some army with specific political and doctrinal views. Show the world what it is really missing. Show them what a follower of Christ does, and not just what they don’t do.