Letters to Little Theologians

The Farra ThreeI’m back young Farratroopers…

From the time I was born, my mom and dad taught me to believe that God existed.  We prayed to God.  We read stories about God from the Bible.  We went to church and sang songs to God.  I was taught that God made the world and everything in it…including me!  Mimi and I taught the same things to your daddies when they were your age.

It wasn’t until I started going to school and spending time away from my home and church, that I learned there were people who didn’t believe in God.  I can remember how surprised I was.  I couldn’t imagine a world without God.  And I still can’t.

I have spent my whole life trying to help people understand who God is.  I hope we get to talk about God together someday, when you are a little older.  There’s so much I would like to say to you.  Until then, here are a few things about believing in God:

I can’t see God.  I never have.  But when I look around at all the things in the world…the mountains and oceans and stars and crazy-cute babies that are born (just like you), I have more than enough reasons to believe God exists.

God is not a person like you and me.  God doesn’t have hands and feet.  God isn’t a man.  Or a woman.  Even though the Bible (we’ll talk about the Bible later) refers to God as “He”, God didn’t grow up as a boy.  In fact, God never grew up at all, because He has always been here.  Before anything existed, there was only God.  God has no limits.  He is everywhere.  All the time.

God sees everything that is happening.  God knows everything we are thinking.  God hears everything we say.  That’s why we can talk to him.  That’s what prayer is.  (We’ll talk about prayer some time soon, also.)

In spite of all the things I know about God, believing is still a mystery to me.  There are still so many things I don’t know. Because God is mysterious, people make up a lot of their own beliefs.  So believing in God is something I have always taken seriously, making sure that what I believe is as true and right as it can possibly be.

You three are already little swimmers.  I love watching you in the pool.  When you are in the shallow end, standing on the stairs, right next to me, you feel really safe and confident.  It’s only when you get out in the deep end that it gets a little scary and you have to trust that you have practiced, that you know your swimming skills, and if you breathe right and move your arms and legs right, and don’t panic…everything will be okay, even though you can’t really see or touch the bottom.

Believing in God is a lot like getting out into the deep end.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

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Goodness, shmoodness…

i just got through doing a nice thing for my son.  a really nice thing.

i was sitting here admiring the nice thing i had done.  i was thinking, “i’m a good dad.  i’m sure my son realizes that.  i hope my example makes an impact and carries on after i’m gone.  yup.  i’m a good dad.”

yuck.

please forgive me for my moment of deluded self-admiration.

although i hopped out of the USS John Calvin boat many years ago,  i will still readily…and biblically…admit that any good thing that comes from me is simply because of the goodness of god that has taken up residence in my body.

i don’t love because i’m a good guy.  i love because god loved me first and rescued me from a dismal life of self-centeredness,  self-interest,  and self-obsession.

every day is lived “in view of god’s mercy”…which means i don’t get the wrath of god that i really deserve…and i constantly get opportunities to treat others with the grace and patience extended to me by a benevolent and just father.  my true example and the one who daily shows me how treat others.

in these days of uncivility, i’m grateful the great gift-giver continues to influence and empower this self-absorbed and clueless child.

when all is said and done,  i’m not a very good person at all.  but i know the one who is.

and hopefully today will not be a continued adventure in missing the point.

“The Bible says…”

i grew up being taught that the bible was god’s “love letter” to people.  from my childhood, i heard and read stories of god’s great love and compassion and grace.  i was told the story again and again of how god “so loved the world that  he gave his one and only son”…for me.

as i’ve grown older, i don’t believe those stories any less.  as a matter of fact, i am more convinced of god’s great love for me…and you…than i have ever been.

but things are more complicated for me now.

i have also come to realize that the bible…god’s word…is the most polarizing, inflammatory and misunderstood book ever written.

the mere statement, “in the beginning, god created…” is intellectually explosive and culturally divisive.  for most, they are not words of security and sovereign comfort, but words that draw lines in the sand.

we live in a day and age where, if one states, “the bible says…”, another is quick to respond, “well that’s just your opinion.”  or worse yet, “a god of love would never say or do anything like that!

look, everybody views life from a lens or a world view.  people have starting points and basic assumptions that frame their opinions and fuel their values and beliefs.  sometimes, life experiences come along and rock those core beliefs and cause practical or theological shifts.  sometimes they don’t.

the public forum is jammed packed with people giving their opinions on just about everything these days.  there are arguments and pleadings and the discourse can be pretty ugly.  just today,  i was reading the comment section of a news article and the venom spilling out was raw and painful.

it was directed at those people…the people who hide behind “the bible says…”.  people who justify their intolerance and ignorance and moral superiority by the words of a book of questionable origin, antiquated cultural values, and varied interpretations.

and here’s the rub:  some of the people i love most in the world see ME as one of those people.  and though i would disagree with their conclusions about the person i am (ignorant, intolerant, blindly mystical, culturally judgmental, and intellectually suicidal), i would stipulate this:

my life is built on the revealed word of truth in the bible.  and as much as i want to at times, i don’t pick and choose those things i will believe and those things i won’t…to fit situations i find myself in or to minimize the awkwardness or discomfort of a cultural impasse.

i desperately want to.  but i can’t.  i sincerely understand why many people choose to believe some parts of the bible and reject other parts.  i hope my dialogue with those folks is always gentle and willing to wrestle with different points of view.  i also hope my actions towards them will always be genuine, gracious and committed to pursuing friendship.

but i can’t re-write parts of the bible to my own liking…because if i do,  i will have shifted over to trusting myself more than the one who i believe has created me.

the created displacing the creator.   i just can’t do it.  i hope my friends don’t judge and reject me.  i deeply hope my family understands.  i recognize my position won’t always be respected or followed.

when i contend for “the bible says…”, i know i am becoming an increasingly unpopular minority.  and as the pressure grows, i am more determined than ever to study the book with integrity and walk in the steps and example of jesus.  i don’t have all the answers,  but i know the one who does.

Sunday night

i love sundays,  but i’m always exhausted by the end.  exhaustion is sometimes a good place to find clarity…

many people don’t believe in any god.  they don’t want to.  they don’t know how.  they don’t see a need.  it doesn’t make sense.  there’s not enough proof.  they see too many problems.  life is fine without a god.

the majority believe in the god of their forefathers.  a god passed down through the centuries.  a god of history and folklore.  whether a god of tribal heritage or suburban sunday school, they had no real choice.  it was simply assumed.  moms and dads pass on their images of god.  right or wrong is immaterial.

lots of people believe in a god they create.  a god that makes sense to them.  a god of convenience.  a god who they can turn to in times of emergency.  a god who’s kind of a mixture of santa claus and a three-wish genie.  a hybrid god of jehovah, allah, brahman, and ahura mazda.  a god of great power.  or a god of great hope.

few believe in the god of the bible.  for most, the god of the bible is too narrow…too intolerant…to judgmental…too angry…too exclusive.  they don’t know the bible.  they think they know the bible, but don’t.  they don’t trust the reliability, veracity, authenticity, or legitimacy of the bible.

i wish people would take matters of life and death more seriously.  but they’re too busy.  too “into” their lives and the lives of their families or work or play or living the life of here and now.  

i wish people would overcome their fears or hurdles to spend more time seeking god and truth.  more time investigating the genuineness of the bible.  more time fighting through the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of people of faith.  i’ll freely admit we have many.

i wish more people would ask questions and stay long enough to get answers.

how about you?  which kind of person are you?

What if God was one of us?

remember the song?   i’ve got a new take on it.

i had a conversation with a new friend recently.   because of a lifetime of struggles and demons,  he has incredible difficulty interacting with people.   he prefers to live alone…closed off from people.   maybe to avoid being hurt.   maybe to avoid hurting them.

he chooses to build walls to protect himself…and keep others at a distance.   knowing what little of his story i know,  i can’t say that i blame him.

at some point,  our conversation turned to god.   he’s finding it difficult,  if not impossible,  to connect with god anymore.   his doubts and questions have turned to full-blown unbelief.   it’s complicated.   it’s dark.   it’s incredibly painful.   for him,  it seems nearly hopeless.

here’s some truth… for all of us:

we cannot touch god.   we cannot see god.   we cannot smell god.   we cannot taste god.   and with apologies to all my subjective,  mystical,  touchy-feely friends…we cannot feel god.

that’s why we need people.

we need touch.   we need hugs and handshakes and shoulder taps and fist bumps and head-locks and nose tweaks.   we need to be able to stand arm in arm when we are serving.   we need a hand on a knee or a shoulder to cry on when we are grieving.   we need hands to help us up and forearm shivers to stop us in our tracks.

we need presence.   we need to see we are not alone.   there is strength in numbers.   we need face-to-face connection.   we need to see differences…and physically experience our uniqueness.   we need to see and know that our backs are covered.   we need looks of approval and sympathy and confidence and belief…so we can move forward.   we need to see integrity and grace and faith.

we need experience.   we need the sweet aroma of forgiveness and compassion.   we need to be told we are loved and accepted.   we need to taste what it means to belong and be part of something larger.   we need the sensation of relationship and teamwork and loyalty and shared vision.

we find this in people.   if we get close enough and we are willing to risk getting hurt.   people are fallible and imperfect.   people are self-centered and weak.   people fall short.

but people are the stuff that god chooses to express his nature and character through.   that’s his plan.   it always has been.

you can read the bible and come face to face with truth.

you can submit your will and receive the presence of god’s spirit in your life.

you can enter the inner sanctuary of personal communion with god.

you can go into your private prayer closet and speak personally with the creator.

you can sit alone on a mountain top and drink in the greatness of god’s power and purpose.

but you cannot experience the fullness of relationship with the father and the son and the holy spirit without others close by your side.

without others,  your growth will be stunted…your trust will be siphoned away…and your personal “experience” with the almighty will be suffocated.

get some friends and do this journey together.

Amazing

i read a lot of blogs and publications and interviews by various church leaders.    huge variety…very diverse.    many of them are challenging to my leadership and encouraging to my heart.   reading is water to my soul.

however,  there is a phrase i’m growing weary of.   it appears again and again.   it’s a favorite of many.   and i’m treading on some really thin ice by criticizing it. the words go something like this:

we’re really seeing god do some amazing things in our church these days…


really?   how do you know?

when a lot of people start coming?   when people are healed of illnesses?   when more money starts rolling in?    when you have a bunch of baptisms?   when prayers are answered the way you want?   when the details of your plans begin to be fulfilled?   or simply when good things are happening?

i guess my frustration is not so much with our willingness to ascribe the amazingness to god… when those things are present…as much as it is with what we are saying when those things are not happening.

is god only doing amazing things when the good stuff is happening?   is he choosing not to be amazing by withholding  what we are asking for in our prayers…or sending us more money or more people or more stuff?

is god only amazing sometimes?

can we still call god amazing in the bad times,  as well as the good?   do we have the depth of character and the breadth of faith to also identify god’s silence as amazing?   what about his discipline?   what about his apparent inactivity or when it seems like he is no longer listening?

if god is being amazing by saving and healing and changing people over there…at that church…what’s his problem with not being amazing over here…at this church? come on,  god…

if god is,  in fact,  truly amazing,  then he is (by necessity and by design) doing amazing things at all times.

can’t we just say that god is amazing…and leave it at that?

yeah.   i’m a little testy tonight.   so sue me.