When your faith wavers (a lesson from John the Baptist

Have you ever had this experience? The faith you confidently held and expressed throughout your life suddenly seems thin and wobbly. What you previously believed without a doubt you now find yourself questioning. If so, you are in good company.

So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another? Luke 7:18,19

John, the one who while still in his mother’s womb recognized Jesus as the Messiah; the one who didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he felt unworthy to even untie his sandals; the one who pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world;” this John, the one who was convinced Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, now has doubts. John, in prison and anticipating death because of his faith, now needs reassurance that Jesus is indeed the Christ.

What did John do when he was experiencing a crises of faith? 

He asked his friends to go to Jesus on his behalf. He had a trusted community with whom he could share his doubts, ones who would approach Jesus when he could not. Do you have such relationships? Your doubts might cause you to withdraw or isolate yourself. Do the opposite. Confide in your friends, admit your doubts, ask them to pray, borrow their faith until yours returns.

. .demons love darkness and hiddenness. Inner fears and struggles which remain isolated develop great power over us. But when we talk about them in a spirit of trust, they they can be looked at and dealt with. Once brought into the light of mutual love, demons lose their power and quickly leave us.  – Henri Nouwen The Road to Daybreak

How did Jesus respond to John’s dilemma?

He says, “look at the fruit of my ministry.” It’s so like Jesus to not answer a direct question with a direct answer. He’s committed to building our faith, not coddling our doubts. His answers cause us to examine our lives, pointing us to the ways we are no longer blind, lame, sick, deaf, dead or poor. His answers to our questions drive us to trust his character. Our faith, even as we doubt, is solid and true. Doubts will pass, our faith abides; and remember, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

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They ‘paved paradise’

It’s obvious we are not living anywhere near the Garden of Eden and God’s intention for our lives and relationships. What went wrong? Genesis 3 gives us a clue.

After the ‘fall’ Adam and Eve “clothed themselves in fig leaves.”

Previous to the fall, they enjoyed unadulterated fellowship with God, each other and all of creation; they were “naked and not ashamed.” In perfect partnership and according to God’s direction, they tended the garden and cared for the animals. They knew only freedom and joy. After the fall, Adam and Eve were afraid. They hid themselves and made fig leaves to cover their nakedness. Heeding the serpent’s voice and choosing to do the one thing God has asked them not to do changed their outlook; suddenly they became self conscious, for the first time they noticed their own nakedness. Their attention and focus shifted to themselves. Their gaze moved from God, each other and the garden to their own naked bodies. They became aware of their vulnerable state and knew they had disappointed God. Out of this shame, they attempted to hide behind self-made fig leaves.

We’ve inherited this pattern. We are very self-aware, in many ways we cast ourselves as the primary character in the play of life; it’s all about us, we are the center of the universe. And sadly, because we are afraid who we are will disappoint God or others we hide and cover up. Our fear and shame causes us to use emotional/relational styles of fig leaves to cover ourselves and hide our nakedness. Fear and pretense kills the spiritual and ideal community God wants to us experience.

We can no longer enter relationships without fear and shame being present to some degree. You must earn my trust. I must grow to believe that you are a safe person with whom I can be my vulnerable self. Until then, I’ll keep myself protected and guard against the pain of disappointment by hiding behind my own version of a fig leaf.

Does this sound familiar? Visit www.thementoredlife.com/2011/06/13/keeping-the-love see examples of various emotional/relational fig leaves. Take a risk, find a few trusted friends in your spiritual community with whom you can dare to be ‘naked and not ashamed.’ As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Pockets of Paradise

God desires our communities to be safe places where one can live in intimate relationship with God, with self and with others. Genesis 2:25 describes the quality of such a fellowship beautifully and poetically, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

A gathering of God’s beloved children should be characterized by people who are “naked and not ashamed.” Wow! Of course I am speaking metaphorically and spiritually, but consider with me the definitions and implications of what it means to be naked and not experience any shame in the context of community.

Although Adam and Eve were literally naked, the Hebrew word translated naked also means a person without pretense or uniform. Police officers wear uniforms so they can easily be identified. A police uniform tells you how to relate to the person wearing it and what you can expect from them. The uniform defines the role they’ll play in your life and how you should interact with them. You don’t know the person behind the uniform, you don’t even care about the person behind the uniform, your relationship with them is defined by the role they play.

When physically naked, there is nothing covering your body, your beauty and your flaws are seen by all. To be naked spiritually and relationally is to be yourself, without pretending to be someone you are not, or hiding within the safety of a role you play. It’s “what you see is what you get”, no pretense, no hiding, just guileless authenticity.

And (here’s the kicker) this person, in their absolute nakedness feels no sense of shame. Shame is the feeling that follows disappointment of opinion, hope or expectation. They are purely themselves and have complete confidence that who they are will not disappoint in any way. There is no shadow of doubt cast on their personhood, they live from a place of sufficiency, value and acceptance.

I think of my grandkids when I think about this type of unashamed nakedness. Eliza and Jack both jump out of the bath and run around in naked exuberance, unaware of their bodies, conscious only of joy and life. This is the experience God desires for us in our communities. To live with one another in the freedom that unselfconscious nakedness would allow. Imagine outposts of Eden where God’s kingdom is realized, where brothers and sisters can live together Naked and Not Ashamed. This is paradise!

What are your thoughts about this concept? Do you have any place where you experience the type of community described in Genesis 2:25?

Realistic thinking

Paul encourages us to think realistically about ourselves, “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” Rom 12:3 Thinking about ourselves with sober judgement also suggests we are not to consider ourselves worse than we are! The body of Christ, when practicing their unique expression of the Spirit’s gifts, keeps us honest about who we are.

Without even knowing it, we often relate from a false sense of who we truly are. Our false self lives in one of two camps, with an ego either extremely elevated or totally deflated. The first cannot tolerate any blemish or shadow on its bloated sense of self, the other cannot integrate any sense of value or worth. They appear very different from one another but they are two expressions of the same process, an attempt to prove ourselves good, lovable and significant.

Our inflated ego keeps our false self safe by believing, “I’m good, I’m important, God must be pleased with me”; people must be kept at a distance in order to protect our false sense of security. Their displeasure or disapproval of who I am could puncture the fragile membrane that keeps my false self intact.

On the other hand, believing we are worthless and unlovable, causes us to draw people toward us who will be the voice that tells us “You’re good, you’re important, God must be pleased with you.” All in an attempt to strengthen the false self by convincing ourselves that we are okay.

God’s truth spoken through the living Word and through the words of our brothers and sisters in Christ deals a death blow to the false self. You see, God’s word pronounces us guilty even when we do not feel guilty (inflated ego) and it pronounces us not guilty and righteous, even when we do not feel righteous at all (deflated ego). The truth is we are sinners, but we are beloved sinners. We are worse than and better than our false selves would have us believe.

God dissolves the false self by placing God’s word and truth in the gifts of another, be that other a servant, a teacher, an encourager, a giver, or one who shows mercy. Living in a community, that practices her spiritual gifts allows our true selves to be realized. We need each other. We need God’s school of grace called community; it is our tutor in truth.

Into which camp to you fall, the deflated or inflated ego? How do you see it playing out in your relationships with others? Speak with God about what you discover.

How have you been impacted by the spiritual gifts of another? Invite the Holy Spirit to use you and your gifts to build the body of Christ.

The Lord sends the Spirit

Fire and flames.

Pentecost – Acts 2:1-16

Jack and I  lived through Hurricane Sandy. We know what the rush of a violent wind sounds like. It certainly gets your attention! Such a wind, accompanied by tongues of fire dancing among and resting upon the disciples, along with the ability to speak in a language not their own – well, that got the whole city’s attention.

The great commission begins. Notice:

  1. The disciples were all together. The community created by a relationship with the living Christ is important for the sharing of the Good News. Remember that your witness to God’s love and power is made strengthened by your union with fellow believers.
  2. It is God who initiates and displays the power. The disciples were just the channels through which God spoke the good news. For the most part, they were unlearned Galileans. The only explanation of their ability to speak a foreign language was the power of God’s Holy Spirit. (not wine!) They were in the right place at the right time, aka obedience. Jesus had asked them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. They did and wonders followed. Remember that it your part to faithfully obey God’s words and it is God’s part to empower you to share his love.
  3. God speaks your language. It was an amazed crowd that gathered to witness the event, but it was to individuals that God communicated the gospel in a language known only to them. God makes sure the message of salvation is spoken in a unique way that each and every person can grasp. Remember that God communicates his love and power to you in a personalized language only you can understand. Listen for it.

(Written for CBC’s weekly devotional.)

The Lord sends the Spirit

We lived through Hurricane Sandy. We know what the rush of a violent wind sounds like. It certainly gets your attention! Such a wind, accompanied by tongues of fire dancing among and resting upon the disciples, along with the ability to speak in a language not their own – well, that got the whole city’s attention.

The great commission begins. Notice:

  1. The disciples were all together. The community created by a relationship with the living Christ is important for the sharing of the Good News. Remember that your witness to God’s love and power is made strengthened by your union with fellow believers.
  2. It is God who initiates and displays the power. The disciples were just the channels through which God spoke the good news. For the most part, they were unlearned Galileans. The only explanation of their ability to speak a foreign language was the power of God’s Holy Spirit. (not wine!) They were in the right place at the right time, aka obedience. Jesus had asked them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. They did and wonders followed. Remember that it your part to faithfully obey God’s words and it is God’s part to empower you to share his love.
  3. God speaks your language. It was an amazed crowd that gathered to witness the event, but it was to individuals that God communicated the gospel in a language known only to them. God makes sure the message of salvation is spoken in a unique way that each and every person can grasp. Remember that God communicates his love and power to you in a personalized language only you can understand. Listen for it.

Acts 2:1-16

Written for Community Bible Church’s weekly devotion.

Jesus’ best friend

Did you know you have a lot in common with Jesus? Here’s one way. Think about your best friend. I bet he’s someone you met by accident, at school, or at a party, or on your soccer team. You didn’t go to school with the agenda of meeting someone who would become your best friend. It just happened as you went about your normal life. Same with Jesus. He was out for a walk one day beside the Sea of Galilee with no particular destination in mind, just out for a stroll when he met the men who would become his closest friends. (I guess there’s a lesson here for being open to new and unexpected relationships.) He models for us the need for friends and partners on our journey. He didn’t go it alone, neither should we.

On this walk Jesus encountered two sets of fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John. He invites them to join him in his work. “Follow me,” he invites, “I will use your skills and abilities for a larger purpose. Now you catch fish – follow me, learn to do as I do and you will catch people.”

Notice several things about these encounters.

1. “He was passing by the Sea of Galilee…” (Mark 1:16-20) Jesus was just out for a walk. He didn’t have “find four disciples” on his list of things to do for the day. He saw these able fishermen, most likely knew them from previous interactions, and offered them the chance to lead a different kind of life, a life that used their acquired skills and natural abilities for the Kingdom’s sake. They weren’t spiritual giants, they were ordinary fishermen.

Jesus invites ordinary you to follow him; to use your everyday skills and abilities for the sake of God’s kingdom. Take a minute and think about the things you do in your ordinary day, activities you’ve acquired by training or by natural gifts. Maybe you’re a mom, a teacher or a banker. Whatever your role, the ordinary duties you perform are absolutely transferable and useful for Jesus’ mission! The famous acting coach Konstantin Stanislavisky was channelling Jesus when he said “Remember, there are no small parts, only small actors.” You are an important part in helping fulfill Jesus’ mission.

2. The two sets of brothers, although both fishermen, were doing two different tasks: Simon and Andrew were casting their nets, James and John were mending theirs. Jesus needs all kinds of expertise in his community.

Some of us will be naturals at bringing in or adding to the family of God. Others of us will have hearts that incline toward caring for and tending the members of the community. Both dispositions (plus many other gifts) are necessary. We need to honor our temperament and personality as we follow Jesus into life’s ministry. Let your God given tendencies be used by the Spirit to complete the body of Christ. And in a spirit of humility we can bless those of us who have different giftings. It is not a competition. All are necessary and included in the community of Christ.

3. Both sets of brothers needed to be willing to leave behind important aspects of their life in order to follow Jesus.

Simon and Andrew left their nets. They were willing to lose their possessions and a relatively secure future because being with Jesus meant more to them than what they owned. James and John left their father with the hired men. From now on their sense of family would be found among the people, who like them, followed Jesus. Their primary identity would no longer be Zebedee’s sons, the fishermen. Soon they would be known as disciples of Jesus.

So on this average, ordinary day Jesus sees you going about your average, ordinary activities. He recognizes you have talents and a heart that your average, ordinary work can’t utilize or satisfy completely. You were meant for more. He invites you to join his community, to partner with him in his purpose of letting people know the Good News: God’s kingdom is here and now.

Following Jesus requires you to leave behind the security you seek from things and relationships and to cast your allegiance and trust onto Jesus. He will name you, satisfy your ache for a meaningful life, and provide the security you need to live peaceably. Jesus needs you as part of his community. It’s a grand and marvelous adventure, will you follow him?