doubting one’s self (part of my story)

A lot of water has come and gone over the dam. Much good over the years, and much not so good, even some not really good at all. Although I can be thankful that I’ve been married to one woman, and have known only her, and want to be with her to the end and beyond in the next life (if she will have me).

I always wanted to be a pastor. And I do that kind of work Sunday after Sunday at a nursing home in leading a worship service which includes singing and preaching/teaching, along with prayer and visiting. And I would have enjoyed teaching as a job, either, but I have seen myself over the years especially as aspiring to a pastor’s heart.

But perhaps the strongest undertow that swept me out and that I failed to overcome by faith, which I could have by the way, was the lie that I was a nobody who would fail in life, just as I heard a close relative (not in my immediate family) say when I was 10 years of age or so. So that I not only doubted myself, but rarely if ever saw anything good. And no one else did either, or if they did, for whatever reason they failed to help me understand the gift God had given me, and encourage my development and growth in that. And by the way, I don’t imagine at all that my gift is any more special than anyone else’s. All of our gifts from God are special, so that we’re all special gifts from God in creation, and new creation in Jesus.

But the biggest problem was that I failed to break past that by believing in God and God’s goodness and assessment of me. Instead believing the old stories that had piled into and accumulated in my head, and by and by took over my heart. So that I came to the dangerous place, even after graduating from two schools with a Bachelor and Masters degree, one a seminary, in which I had given up and believed I never would fulfill my heart’s desire and become a pastor, one ordained into the ministry.

Around that was a sense of defeat instead of faith in which I failed to work through the difficult things of life, which are inevitable for us all. Though I always did hold down a job through the years, the Lord’s gracious provision for us in my factory work.

I say all of this to encourage any reader to do better, to avoid the pitfall I experienced.

I am grateful to God, knowing it could have been worse. And if I have health and some years after retirement, I hope to serve in something like a chaplaincy role.

We can learn from the past, and work through it for some healing, but we also live in the present. This is where we live, and we want to do well here and now. To have the faith and everything toward God which honors and pleases him, who alone is the Faithful One. To hold on to that, and continue on faithful to the end. With others, in and through Jesus.

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prayer

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

back to the Bible

I have a call for both progressive and conservative Christians, and really for everyone regardless of what stripe or tradition in Christianity we might be. We all need to get back to the Bible.

I know no one reads the Bible without interpreting it, just like any other book. And theology informs that reading of scripture, just as scripture ought to inform one’s theology, shorthand here for one’s understanding of the faith and the gospel. But the Bible by itself will impact you if it really is God’s breathed out, written word. In your heart, mind and practice.

Back to the Bible is one of my favorite Christian organizations, probably second to Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work. I love what they try to do, and look like they’re still doing in a helpful new way. I remember the days of Theodore Epp, who used to be, and in a sense still is one of my favorite Bible teachers.

I would like not only to see any theological system challenged probably mostly in refining, but perhaps with some bigger changes through the reading and study of scripture. But just as importantly, each one of us. We need to go back to scripture again and again, pore over it, ask the hard questions, and keep reading and praying. We won’t be disappointed if we continue to do that. And like Charles Spurgeon noted, there’s never an end to the depths we find in scripture as well as the life in and through Jesus.

a marathon

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Hebrews 12:1-2; VOICE

In the United States, we love the sprinters, “the world’s fastest humans,” and we pay little attention to marathons, though perhaps that has been changing in recent times. Part of that might be our penchant for instant entertainment and results. We probably are not all that good at processing things, therefore we prefer a song (which might be good) of three to five minutes duration over a symphony any day. Anything that takes time and involves process is not what we’re all about, or programmed for.

But all of that said, the Christian faith and life is all about process and longevity. It is not about some great flash into arrival and unending success. If we don’t believe that, maybe we would do well to read the passage linked above which includes all of Hebrews 11. But much of our Christianity seems to be different. It is about greatness now in the sense of doing great things, and in some sense having arrived. But I don’t see scripture, and life that way at all.

We never know what a day may bring, but we have to be in it, committed for the long haul. We have to have a marathon runner’s mentality, not the sprinter’s. Many things will happen along the way. Seeming failure, setbacks, mistakes, challenges, unforeseen problems, whatever it might be. But we go on, maybe get up and go on, but definitely go on. We’re in it for the long haul. Looking to, indeed fixing our eyes on Jesus. What we’re called to. In and through Jesus.

 

trusting God

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

There is nothing more basic to life than simply trusting God. Trusting God and trusting in God. We really can’t get and do enough of that in this life, because questions and problems can come at us from so many angles.

In the end it’s a simple question of do we trust God, or do we not? And the trust for us amounts to accepting the witness of God’s word in the gospel, and all of God’s promises which come from or are related to that.

A big part of trusting is focus. We try to study and make the best decisions in life, praying through all of that, and then we settle into leaving it in God’s hands. And we turn our attention to other things at hand, and especially to scripture: the word of God and prayer. And we seek to be a blessing to others.

The bottom line ends up being do we really trust God, and trust in God. And when our faith is weak or wavering, we need to just let go and let God, a perhaps overused and misunderstood thought, but nevertheless not without merit, because faith grows because of the Faithful One. God as Father, Son and Spirit is faithful, and will prove to be that way, if only we will trust him.

God has it. We will slip, and lose sight and forget, but God never does. He has it all covered. Do we really believe that? And we must remember that it’s much more about the Faithful One than our faith. Our faith is dependent on the Faithful One. In and through Jesus.

the idolatry of the cross with the flag

While there may well be a subtle critique going on in the New Testament of the idolatry of the state in light of the gospel, and the kingdom that brings, I think by and large the Christian faith was meant to be planted in a way that transcended any nation or government, internationally, and yet not tied down to any one nation or all of the nations put together, but very much on its own, in our American terms today: independent. The church was to be submissive to rulers and authorities, or at least those making up the church, but only insofar as that submission is faithful to the lordship of Christ. We bow the knee in the end to one Lord, and are submissive to those placed in authority insofar as they remain in their place.

In the beginning America was kind of a breakaway from the old world of church and state, but in another way, not. Yes, many people came here to have religious freedom from the state which imposed on the church much of its will in the old world, in fact we might say all of it. The roots of that is back to the Constantinian shift which began what was called the Holy Roman Empire in which only Christians could serve, everyone else essentially excluded. The Reformation in large part was responsible for this shift, though it was the Anabaptists and Baptists who pressed that. Infant baptism, except for Jews was required in the old world and was part of what it meant to be a member not only of the church, but a citizen of the state. In the complexity of that time, many came over with no axe to grind on that score, but to put their roots into the new world. Many of them were of the Church of England, Anglican, called Episcopalian here. While the new world in theory would hold to religious liberty, it was not practiced until the 1830s except for the Quaker state of Pennsylvania. This was a huge shift from the old world, yet almost the same allegiance of the church to the state remained in place. Of course with all kinds of varying understanding as to what that meant depending on the tradition, but except for the Anabaptists who were surely a relatively small minority (Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, and the like), the state in some measure and degree could be considered Christian.

Fastforward to today. There are many who find no problem at all with pictures of the US flag draped over the cross, maybe with an image of Christ hanging on it. And even for Christians who would be uncomfortable with that, there is little or no hesitation to see the United States in its best version to be a Christian nation. Of course the US always had both believers and nonbelievers in its mix, and while scripture was pointed to as part of its original understanding of what is right and wrong, there was never any pretense on the part of the founding fathers (except for a very few) that the United States was to be a Christian nation, but quite to the contrary. They more or less invoked, or wanted the blessing of the church and of Christianity on and in their endeavor, but this was wholly another experiment entirely, steeped in the Modernist Enlightenment which was still relatively new and fresh at that time.

We have those today on the left and on the right as it’s called, who both make the case more or less of what the United States ought to look like, yes, as a Christian nation. And neither vision is the vision we find in scripture, and specifically in the New Testament in which we read of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus, and what form that takes through faith and baptism in the church, and instead of what place that has in the world, how the nations and the world should be seen in light of that. One might say the place the state has in the picture in which the gospel and Christ’s kingdom is the main point of it all.

And so the idea of draping a flag over a cross, or for that matter even having the US flag to be understood as basic to the identity of any church, or of course any other national flag for that matter, is idolatry at its core, or at least in danger of bowing the knee in worship to something other than the Lord Jesus. Due respect, honor and submission is one thing. But amalgamation is quite another. Churches, denominations, and individual believers have to make difficult decisions related to this, like whether or not one can be Christian and serve in the military, or in the political arena, and to what extent. But there should never be any question in all of the due submission to the state just who is lord. It is never ever the state, and never the state with the church. Christ is Lord over all, King of kings and Lord of Lords. The gospel is at the heart of our existence as Christ followers, as Christians, whether we recognize that or not. And nothing else can be a part of that.

working through disagreements

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

If you think at all, you won’t always agree with others. That is life. It’s not that the others are always wrong and us right, or vice versa. It is simply a case for a host of reasons of us having different opinions and perhaps even convictions on some things.

I think a key for us as Christians is to listen well to each other, really listen. Try to hear what they’re saying in its entirety, and ask questions for further clarification when needed. If we have serious disagreements, we can then express our concerns. But at a certain point in order to maintain the relationship, we have to agree to disagree, and agreeably so, in a way in which we can get along well with the other, and maintain good fellowship together in our Lord.

The key for me from the passage quoted above is the idea of being “of the same mind in the Lord.” It is where we’re united that we need to land on, and we as Christians are one in Christ. And in that union, we’re to find, I take it, something like a consensus in which we find agreement in a relational, functional kind of way, which is willing to set aside whatever disagreement remains for the sake of peace and for the sake of the gospel. And with a dependence on the Lord that he will see us through.

The idea expressed in this passage of a Christian leader mediating is of course of great value, and part of God’s word for us here. God can give that third party wisdom and an objectivity which is not possible for the parties in disagreement.

In the end we all need to work through and learn to live well with our differences because of and through our union with Christ. The gospel being the uniting factor from which we grapple with all the rest. So that even when our disagreements on other matters remain, our unity in Christ and in the gospel helps us to remain united in mind and heart. As we look forward to a better day to come beyond this life in and through Jesus.