Category Archives: faith

Parts 4, 5 and 6…of 3

This picture doesn’t really have anything to do with the post…I just thought it was a great example of Rachel’s budding photography skills. If you really need me to I’m perfectly capable of fabricating a metaphor…an unfocused Josiah in the background, a young praying mantis focused in the foreground…it would be very simple. But just enjoy the picture, jeez.

Last weekend I started writing down some thoughts. I’d been wrestling with the issue of time in discipleship/spiritual formation. Over the years I’ve encountered several books and resources on discipleship which I believe are solid in both theology and theory…but they’ve mostly fallen short in practice. Its hard to get folks to commit to even an hour or two a week – we’re all so very, very busy. And even when we do, the impact and growth we experience still pales in comparison to what we read in the Gospels and Acts.

And it struck me that our discipleship strategies – even the ones modeled specifically around the way of Jesus – differ from what we know of the early Christians in one incredibly significant area: time. Well, that and Jesus not being bodily present.

So my notes soon expanded into a blog post…then into a 2000 word blog post. When I started approaching 3000 words, I decided they’d need to be split into multiple posts or even my 2 faithful readers would abandon their journey in despair.

I scheduled the posts for Monday-Wednesday of this week and let the idea sit (read part 1, part 2, part 3 here). Then the thoughts started coming again (I’m a little schizophrenic that way). Well, posts 4, 5 and 6…of 3 are just about finished. I’m going to let them simmer a bit before finalizing and posting, but needless to say, I believe this is an important discussion.

These posts describe the problem and only vaguely hint at possible solutions. To be honest, I’m not completely ready to rush to solutions because I’m just a little convinced that our hesitance to consider the problem is itself a part of the problem.

So I think I’ll hold off on solutions and save them for my book!

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to post some comments. I could use some help in thinking this through with others.

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Prayer for Friday, May 13

Faithfulness and Courage in My Life

God of Faithfulness, we confess that in so many ways we’ve failed to live the full and adventurous life of faith that you have prepared for us. We confess that we have not loved you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and we have not loved our neighbor as ourself. Our lack of faith and courage are displayed more often than we’d like to admit. Almighty God, pour out your spirit of boldness so that we will go forward today in great faith. When the darkness surrounds us, Lord we will look to you for light and follow you deeper into the heart of darkness. We know that you are with us, we believe that you are at work in this place. We reach out to take hold of the courage to have faith that your Kingdom is indeed at hand. O God of Faithfulness, grant that we catch a glimpse of this Kingdom so that we will be encouraged to continue forward until the light of dawn finally opens our eyes to all your greatness.

Spend some time reflecting on the ways in which you have NOT acted out of faith and courage. Then lay these specific things before God in prayer and LEAVE THEM THERE. Once you’ve released these failures to God, spend a few minutes in silence asking God to fill the void left by that baggage with courage and faith to move forward into a new day. Trust that God has the desire and the ability to transform your life in this and many other ways.

Prayer for Thursday, May 12

Faithfulness and Courage in the face of Poverty and Oppression

God of Faithfulness, the problems of poverty and oppression are so great. We believe that you are greater, help us in our unbelief. God we long for it to be said that no one in our midst was in need. We know that everything we have is yours, give us the faith to use the resources we’ve been entrusted with accordingly. Almighty Father, give us the courage to stand boldly in solidarity with the oppressed against the systems and structures of oppression. In all things, O God of Faithfulness, teach us to align ourselves with your values so that the people we encounter will praise your name.

What would it mean for you to show more solidarity with the poor and oppressed, whether near or far? What is one thing you could do or one thing you could stop doing to stand with the least of these? Whatever this one thing is, no matter how great or small, share it with someone else and ask them to help you put it into practice.

Prayer for Wednesday, May 11

Faithfulness and Courage in the Global Community

God of Faithfulness, we pray for those who are working even now to proclaim hope in the darkest regions of this world. We pray that you strengthen and encourage them. Thank you God for allowing us to live in such a time that we are able to hear stories of transformation from the far reaches of earth. O God of Faithfulness, give us faith to see the ways in which we can lend our voices, our hands and our resources to join with and support these works, and give us courage to do so.

Who do you know (or have heard of) that has stepped out in courage to do something about the darkness and brokenness in some place beyond their hometown? Consider contacting them to ask 1) how you can pray for or encourage them and 2) what brought them to the point that they were willing to take such a bold risk? Spend a few minutes in prayer for such boldness in your own life, whether it leads you to the other side of the world, or the other side of the street.

Prayer for Tuesday, May 10

Faithfulness and Courage in the Local Community

God of Faithfulness, give us eyes to see our community the way that you see it; reveal the thin places where your kingdom is breaking in and shed light on the dark places where you are at work. God Almighty we know that your heart breaks over pain that we can’t even see. We pray that you will embolden us to truly see the ugly things around us and weep with those who are weeping. Give us the faith and the courage to see and to act as you lead. O God of Faithfulness, we know you’re already at work here, we ask that you strengthen us to join you.

Where is God at work in your community? Where do we desperately need God to work in your community? How can you join in? Today, take a few minutes to discuss one or both of these with another person in your community – a neighbor, a friend at a coffee shop, a total stranger…someone.

Prayer for Monday, May 9

A Faithful and Courageous Church

God of Faithfulness, your patience exceeds our comfort. We pray to step beyond the boundaries of what we call kindness. Expand our notion of mercy and enable us to turn toward our enemies even when they do not turn toward us. God, protect us from our fear; strengthen us to move forward as your people in this place, full of faith, knowing that you are with us and you are already where we are headed. O God of Faithfulness, give us the courage to move past our desire for self-preservation and trust instead in your provision in the midst of uncertainty.

What specific ways has your church community shown itself faithful and courageous; for what can you celebrate and praise God? What is an area where your church family needs to embrace a courageous trust in God and act out of a concern for the advancement of the Kingdom, perhaps requiring a bold move beyond comfort and security? Lift both of these up to God in prayer and take the opportunity to share them also with your church family.

Season of Prayer, Week 3

Scripture Passage for Daily Reflection
Acts 3 – 4:22 (NIV 2011, via biblegateway.com) 

Thoughts for the Week

Rachel and several of the Christ Journey ladies are currently reading a book called, Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment, by Linda Dillow. Yesterday evening as we were driving in the car, Rachel shared some thoughts from her reading. The author notes that if we are anxious we haven’t turned our fears over to God; we aren’t trusting.

Over the last few years I have really asked a lot of this wonderful woman. She is a self-proclaimed homebody who isn’t really a fan of change or risky endeavors. And yet several years ago, after we prayed and talked about it, I asked her to be willing to pack up (with a toddler and young baby) and move several hours away to south Louisiana, with only a 1 year contract guaranteed…and no idea what would happen next. And she did it. A year later, though we were far from home and family, I asked her to stay in the New Orleans area for a couple more years. And she did it.

When Rachel agreed to marry me back in 2000, I was preparing for ministry in established churches which, for all of its issues, was (we both thought) a fairly stable job with somewhat predictable expectations and a paycheck that comes around at the same time and in the same amount with regularity. But a few years ago, after she had followed me to Louisiana, I asked her to be willing to give up even the illusion of stability and move with me back to Texas but into the risky life of church planting. And she did it.

…And now I’ve asked her to support and help me in the starting of a new business. And she’s doing it.

If you ask her, she’ll tell you (as she said to me again yesterday) that its not that impressive because she’s been afraid the whole time and has always been at least a little uncomfortable and anxious. Though these are things that the book she’s reading says means she isn’t trusting God, my wonderful faith-filled wife has never let her fears keep her from moving forward when we believed the Lord was calling us to. She may have been anxious, but she stepped out anyway. She commented tonight that she’s still afraid, but believes that if she didn’t trust God in the midst of what we’ve been through there is no way she would have been able to cope without some pretty heavy medication.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear, its the willingness to do what is required even in the face of fear. Though I’m more introverted than many folks, I am certainly more of a risk taker than Rachel. This doesn’t make me more courageous. If anything, she is the one who has shown the greater amount of faith and courage in her willingness to constantly dwell in a land which seems so hostile to her gentle nature.

So today, on Mother’s Day, I thank God for the mother of my children. I stand humbled in the shadow of this woman whose faith dwarfs my own. My prayer for each of us as we move through this following week, dwelling on prayers for faithfulness and courage, is that we will find the courage to continue walking with God through lands in which we never quite get comfortable…until the day we look around and realize we’re home at last.

Prayer for Sunday, May 8

God of Faithfulness, we acknowledge that even in the midst of our unfaithfulness you have remained faithful throughout the ages. We praise you God because you have shown us a better way. When we are weak, your strength calls us to that which is beyond our own ability; when we are afraid, your courage emboldens us; when we lack faith, your continued faithfulness lights the path. Teach us, O God of Faithfulness, to embrace the Way that originates in you alone.

Where has God proven faithful in your life recently? Spend a few minutes before bed tonight reflecting on last week – where can we point to the faithfulness of God, perhaps in spite of our unfaithfulness?

Japanese Destruction and a 7 Year-Old Prophet

So…yesterday, Conner – our unbelievably brilliant and compassionate 7 year old – saw a commercial about the continuing devastation in Japan. He came running up to Rachel screaming, “Mom! Mom! There’s tsunamis and earthquakes in Japan and they say we need to help them! I NEED TO HELP THEM!”
Rachel explained that Japan is a very long way away and maybe the best way we can help them is by sending money to a group of people that are already there doing what they can.
“Oh, money. I don’t have any money.”
Rachel asked him, “Well, how do you get money?” (which, coincidentally, happens to be a question she and I ask each other all the time!)
He replied, “Well, I work for it.”
“Okay, so what if you worked to make cookies or something to sell and then you could give that money to the people in Japan?”
He thought for a moment and then excitedly responded, “I could make caramel apples.”
After a little thinking and talking with the wise BooBoo (Rachel’s mom) it was decided that caramel apples may not be the best option, but fudge would be good.
That afternoon, after I got filled in on the situation, I asked Conner, “So what’s up with Japan and giving them money?”

“Dad, its terrible there are earthquakes and tsunamis and Japan is in big trouble…it could be completely destroyed! That would be awful…a whole country and all its people gone forever! The world would have one less country…Dad, Japan could become extinct…just like Atlantis! We have to do something!”
He was so upset – it made me a little sad and so very proud to see my son not only deeply concerned about the suffering of others, but equally convinced that it was HIS responsibility to do something about it. So I asked him. “Why do you care? Why should you do something?” The next words out of his mouth were not the words of a child, they were the words of a prophet.
He looked at me, very serious as though I’d just asked him the dumbest question ever: “Because if God were here, he would do something.”
When I composed myself enough to answer I simply said, “You’re right. And I think He’s going to.”
Perhaps this is precisely why Jesus told us we must become like little children if we wish to inherit the Kingdom. Seven year-olds haven’t learned that they can’t really do anything about suffering. They don’t know that the proper response is to shake our head and move on to the next channel. They don’t realize that Japan’s problems aren’t our problems.
In fairness, many people have given both their time and their money to this disaster and to recent ones. We witnessed first hand the generosity and compassion of people from all over the country during the aftermath of Katrina. Our small congregation in Mandeville housed between 20 and 200 out of town volunteers every day for an entire year. So, I don’t want to take away from that.
But we’ve all experienced the desensitizing effect of seeing suffering on the news everyday. We’ve all, myself included, changed the channel because we didn’t want to hear about it. Sometimes we move on because we feel overwhelmed at the enormity of the problems…sometimes we just don’t feel anything.
I confess, there have been more than a few times when I’ve seen images of starving children in Africa and it seemed too far away, to un-real to even register. My son’s reaction yesterday became the finger of the prophet Nathan accusing me of being the man who stole the poor shepherd’s lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-7).
Lord, forgive me for allowing my heart to grow calloused to the suffering of others, whether they are near or far. Create in me a clean heart, the heart of a child and the heart of a father. Give me eyes to see suffering as you do. Not only something to be mourned, but something to be entered into and reconciled.
So, tonight the plans have been made, supplies for fudge have been bought and Conner wrote the follow letter (with an addendum by Rachel). I’ve copied the following from Rachel’s blog:
From Conner (7 years old):

I’m selling fudge candies because there are tsunamis, earthquakes, and radiation leaks going on in Japan. I’m saving money to give to the Red Cross to help the people in Japan. Because if they don’t get enough money to fix everything, the whole country could become extinct! That’s happened before you know – we don’t want Japan to end up like Atlantis!

I’m helping Japan because me and my brothers want to do what God would do if he was here. So please buy some of my fudge.


A note from Mom:
The suggested donation for one bag of fudge (approx 1/2 lb) is $10. Please comment on this blog, message me on facebook, or send me an email (rachel.wells@yahoo.com) if you would like to buy or donate. Out of town friends and family, I still haven’t figured out how to get fudge to you guys. I think it’s gotten too hot to mail it. It has been suggested that if you would like to send a donation, Conner can deliver your fudge to needy and/or forgotten people in the Burleson area (some single moms we know, nursing homes, etc…) If you have any other suggestions I’d gladly take them!

No Doubt or Know Doubt: part II

 

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Rachel is still fond of saying that,“without doubt it isnt faith, its fact.” And before you think that makes faith less valuable or true, remember that one of the very fundamental fallacies of modern/enlightenment thought is that empirically verifiable fact is the only thing which is right or true. Translation – for the last five hundred years weve heard that only things which can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard can be proven or trusted. The whole world, including the non-religious, are waking up from the stupor brought on by this thinking and in a loud voice are calling out for something more. We must stop expending so much energy labeling the New Age, Eastern mysticism and spiritualist movements as something evil and recognize that the world is tired of waiting for Christians to tell them what they need to hear.

There is something real and deep and true beyond the world that the senses currently detect. And sadly, Christians are often too busy attacking spirituality which fails to match our own to be able to say, “Yes! Your impulses are good! Let us journey together.” Having a commitment to the Lordship of Christ does not mean that we must attack and destroy or ridicule and ignore anyone with another commitment.

Unfortunately when we have engaged in this conversation it has often been with a Platonic and Cartesian dualism than from Biblical spirituality. The Platonic way of viewing the universe says that not only are the senses not where all truth resides, but the senses cannot be trusted AT ALL. For Plato everything we see and experience is merely a “shadow” of that which is Real. So we have developed this belief that matter and physicality are not real and are essentially evil. And this is something which the Bible does not affirm.

The certainty of the Enlightenment was based on science and human progress – and we, along with much of the world, say, “Not so much.” Much of the Christian community of last few hundred years jumped on the progress bandwagon. However, what spirituality we experienced has often gone to the other extreme and placed all our eggs in a disembodied spiritual existence. And to this, the Bible says, “Not so much.”

What does all this have to do with doubt and certainty?

When our existence involves both the seen and unseen, physical and spiritual (though I utterly disdain that distinction), faith and reason…it is more difficult to develop and defend rigid systems with black and white boundaries. There are variables. There is mystery.

That doesnt mean that there is no truth or that we should not hold convictions. It does suggest that we should hold our convictions with humility. It does suggest that we can, in good conscience and good faith, admit struggles and doubt; we can have a sense of solidarity with the skeptical seeker. It does mean that we can question assumptions, and challenge beliefs.

I wonder what that looks like? It can look like secular humanism. It can look like individual  cafeteria-style spirituality. It can look like a lot of things which have already been shown to be ineffective. 

However, if part of the process of challenging is giving serious consideration to how Christians and Jews throughout history have been formed; if part of the process is remaining connected to community – even in the midst of differing perspectives; if part of the process is listening to the voices (present and past) who with faith in God have asked similar questions…this process can healthy and life affirming.

Is Dr. Beck right when he suggests that injecting doubt into our churches will probably kill them? My guess is that typically it would be pretty difficult to accomplish without viciously pulling the rug out from under folks. And yet we who are engaging in the ministry of planting new churches are often doing precisely this at some level. At least some of us are saying to those we encounter, “Ive got a lot of questions and doubts too, and my goal is not to eliminate your doubt. I want to invite you into community with other people who are wrestling and also to introduce you to Jesus, the One who is more interested is healing your wounds (and sending you to heal others) than giving you a list of answers (and sending you to convince others).”

Make no mistake, left unchecked, doubt can be crippling. And yet, when a community of disciples is willing to openly and honestly deal with their doubt; to struggle with difficult issues instead of hiding behind platitudes, such a community is poised to experience faith that is never touched by those who refuse to fully engage.

No Doubt or Know Doubt

 

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A large part of college education is to take a group of people who feel that they know everything (college freshmen) and get them to the point where they feel that they don’t know anything. That takes a lot of work in the classroom. The goal is to instill a curious bent to the student’s intellectual character. To get them to see each new experience (ideological and interpersonal) as an opportunity for learning. 

Higher education is good at this. But I wonder how good the church is at this process. Churches, it seems to me, move in the opposite direction: They try to instill certainty. A similar thing happens in political affiliation. You don’t see circumspection when Democrats and Republicans square off. I think this is why we live with the rule to never discuss religion or politics in polite conversation. The “feeling of knowing” infuses those discussions, making them very intense but also very unproductive.

So I wonder, can a church survive if it actually tried to undermine the “feeling of knowing” the way higher education does? Probably not. But I think some persons can make this shift. As a consequence, these person seed the church with question-raisers. The presence of these people infuse the faith community with flexibility and curiosity which prevents ossification and stagnation. A healthy church would be a mix of those who feel they know along with people who feel they don’t know. The real trick is getting these people to get along with each other and to mutually affirm the gifts each brings to the communal setting.

What a great thought from one of my former professors, Dr. Richard Beck. His blog, Experimental Theology is quite challenging for several reasons. First of all, those who think that the content of my blog is too heavy and serious should not even click on his link (though his sarcasm and humor ensure that even his scholarly work is often light-hearted and enjoyable for nerds like me). However the real challenge of Experimental Theology is that Beck is quite comfortable living into the role he suggests in the extended quote above. Challenging not only assumptions but assumptions which entire systems of thought are often built upon.

While I will not cover this topic in any way like Dr. Beck and his very well researched article, I would like to talk a little about the usefulness of doubt and willingness to question assumptions. And since this post is over a thousand words, I’ll post the rest tomorrow.

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