Monday, June 29, 2009

book review: house

I love reading stories that make me stop and think—or in this case, stop and pray. As I read House, it was almost as if God was speaking to my questions and sending me the reminders of truth that I need right now. I always put Ted Dekker’s books on my reading list when I have time to read fiction. His thrillers are always more than they seem. His stories have a spiritual dimension that always keeps me looking for the truths about God and the human condition behind the obvious storyline. And Frank Peretti is known for stories that reveal the hidden realms of good and evil. This book combines all of that.

This is the kind of book that I want to read with someone so I can sit and talk with them about all the hidden meanings and unexpected twists. At first it seems like a horror novel about two couples stranded in a haunted house in the backwoods of Alabama, but it is so much more.

Before even knowing where the story was going, I’ve been thinking (and blogging) about the book’s major themes—that because of the condition of our fallen world everything is distorted, warped, not what it seems, that we are so easily deceived and depraved and in need of Christ in order to see reality. It reminded me of how we need Christ in evangelism to open eyes and reveal spiritual truth. It reminded me of the need to pray toward that end (for myself and others). It reminded me of the spiritual battle that is raging and the authority we have in Christ. It reminded me of what we can legitimately claim spiritually and where to place my faith. It reminded me of how impossible it is to love and respond to truth without the work of the Spirit.

Much like the prophet Nathan did for David, Dekker and Peretti revealed my own need. But beside all that, it’s a pretty good story too. I also recommend Dekker’s Circle Trilogy for summer reading. It reads like a modern allegory of the human condition and the story of redemption. It has contributed to my understanding and articulation of the Gospel in many ways. Check out his website at http://www.teddekker.com/.


(P.S. The movies aren't as good as the books. Not even close.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the place for faith

Is doubting what God will do the same as doubting what God can do or who He is? I got the impression growing up in church that doubt is the unforgiveable sin—that God can’t (or won’t) accomplish anything if we doubt—that I have to believe God will answer my prayers, or he won’t (like if you don't believe in Santa Claus, you won't get gifts). It seemed faith was the key to answered prayer because my degree of faith determines the degree of favor I have with God which determines whether He will answer my prayers. If people weren’t getting healed or whatever it was they were praying for, it was a lack of faith. So, I couldn’t express anything negative in prayer because it might be perceived as doubt.

Several years ago at church I was given permission to doubt, to voice my struggles with God to God, and it has created an intimacy with God that I’ve never known. It created space for honesty in my relationship with God. It has allowed me to accept suffering and disappointment more and more without thinking there is something wrong with me—like my faith is not enough, or I am not enough. It allowed me to grieve and recognize that the path of suffering is often God’s good will for us.

Yet, there is a place for faith prayers, for claiming God’s promises, for praying with the authority we have in Christ, for healing prayer, for prophecy.

One of my professors recently said that what we get from a fall is a lack of balance. We are fallen, so balance is hard for us. I struggle with swinging between knowing that God’s agenda is not always mine (so not asking for anything) or standing in faith on God’s word (and then asking for everything I want as if it’s a promise). I guess that’s why it’s so important to know God’s Word. But what about claiming promises that we were never given in Scripture? Like ones based on vision or prophecy or what God has done for others?

My friend who has been unable to conceive said she always has people trying to encourage her with stories of how God enabled them to get pregnant after many years of trying. People always want to tell me about how God brought them a spouse after their divorce. Lately, I’ve heard numerous stories of people getting healed from or surviving terminal cancer. All of these stories are told as if to say, it could happen for you. If you have faith. Like it’s a promise to stand on. Like it’s where our hope lies. I think that we mistakenly tell our stories of how God brought healing or provided for a need, thinking it will increase others’ faith. But the fact is, God doesn’t always bring healing, he doesn’t always come through the way we think he should. Maybe our stories just produce more questions of "why not me?" Misplaced faith can be devastating.

A story of God’s work in one person’s life does not denote a promise from God for someone else. We can praise God for his works, but it doesn’t mean God is any less faithful when we don’t get the outcome we want. It doesn’t mean the person lacks faith.

So, what can we legitimately claim as a promise? Not that we won’t suffer. What do we hold to? What do we trust in? God’s character, God’s goodness, faithfulness, His work in spite of our suffering. We can have faith in who He is and still express our struggle with the fact that He may not give the outcome we want. We can grieve—and be full of faith.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Doubt, He Draws?

Doubt and faith exist side by side. I often struggle with evangelism when I struggle with God. I feel I should have this all worked out by now. But after a lifetime of Christian teaching, I still have my own questions, so I don’t feel I can answer anyone else’s. Maybe that’s the problem with my view of evangelism—thinking I have to have all the answers. I don’t want to give trite answers. I don’t want to say what’s been said before. I want to be authentic about my own struggles with God. Maybe that is more meaningful than saying the right things? But instead, I keep it all to myself. I don’t say anything for fear that all my doubts about God will shout louder than my faith.

Sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that if God is real, he would have rescued us by now. Shouldn’t there be no more death, no more pain, no more recession, no more evil? Shouldn’t people be fed, abuse be ended, children be cared for? I know the right answers. Do I believe them? Do I want to? My nephew brought my struggles to light yesterday when he asked me if the people who died in the movie we were watching would go to hell. I didn’t want them to. My answer was lame—they often are because there’s a gap between what I want to believe and what I do believe. I see things upside down. What I want to believe makes more sense, humanly speaking. All people go to heaven (except the REALLY bad ones and the ones who are mean to me), all sickness gets healed, all relationships get restored, all bills get paid. That’s what God should do. If he were real.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the hospital with my dad who has terminal cancer. Meanwhile, my mom is trying to help out a lady who has two kids, no money, and an abusive boyfriend. Then there's her neighbor who has custody of a baby who will have burn scars all over his body from when his father tried to kill him when he was four months old. There's my friends who want children but are barren. And you can’t go in the grocery store without reading about John and Kate’s divorce.

I want to offer more than clich├ęs. I want a better story.

God should have rescued us by now. But if I stop seeing things upside down, I see that Christ did rescue us. How do I look beyond what I think people need in order to offer the hope that Christ gives? It’s now but not yet. Lately, it feels more like not yet.

I want to offer what people want—happiness, comfort, ease, success, money, good relationship, health. That’s our idea of rescue. That’s what I want from God. It’s difficult to see through this world’s values to see the Kingdom that is counter-cultural, to see that something greater is offered, to see that losing is winning and dying is life, that suffering is part of the abundant life. Rescue is offered freely, but with a cost. Some people don’t want that kind of rescue. Like the rich young ruler. Not a great sales-pitch.

Maybe evangelism isn’t a matter of enticing. Maybe it’s a matter of being honest about struggles. Maybe that’s a more authentic picture of who Christ is and why he came. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not what we thought rescue should be. Only God can reveal the living water. It is a miracle only he can do. Even when I doubt.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Disconnected

This morning on my way to the hospital to sit with my dad I was thinking about how disconnected I am from myself and from God, and therefore from others. I can go weeks disconnected—unable to remember the core of who God made me to be. In fact, I have gone years before. In the midst of spending time with family, interacting with friends, ministry, church, school work, and even prayer and worship, I can remain disconnected. I invite distraction and never quiet my soul because I don’t want to face any sorrow there. Yet, I seem to be most connected when I allow myself to grieve and be disappointed with life. Ironically, that is when I feel most alive. I was wondering if there’s something messed up about that—I’m most alive when I’m grieving? But then I started reading the book by Michael Card today called A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, and it made sense. In the foreword, Ken Cope addresses what I’ve been thinking about.

“We are taught that grieving is feeling sorry for yourself, and that real strength is to not show any emotion at all. Because we do not know how to be sad, we want to get to the end-stage of grief; we want the benefits and the results of healing, but we do not want to take the time to move through the often long and painful process of grief. For too long we have been taught that shedding tears is a sign of weakness and that you must not wallow in your sorrow. And the mandate of Psalm 46:10, “be still, and know that I am God,” is lost.

“As a result of this approach to grief, we have a whole generation of people with unresolved issues, hurts, and pains in their past that have been shallowly dealt with at best, and at worst have been ignored and discounted completely. The result has been an increasingly shallow Christianity and a profound lack of understanding of the nature of God and how, as His people, we are to move and live in a fallen world. We do not know ourselves. And while we know a lot about God, we do not truly know Him. We have been unwilling to sit in our sadness and pain, and we have missed much of the intimacy that He longs to offer us.

“… We live in a fallen world, full of disappointment and loss, and we often feel empty and unfulfilled and incredibly alone. But while God is not there to fix our problems and make our pain go away, He is always walking beside us. In the ongoing journey of life, we are given the opportunity to know Him and ourselves through the process of lamenting and grieving. … If we really want to encounter God and grow in our relationship with Him, then our attitude toward grief must change from viewing it as an uncomfortable and unwanted drop-in visitor to seeing it as an integral part of our daily journey with God.”


I remember writing about The Journey of Desire, the book that introduced me to the daily spiritual discipline of grieving. Because we are far from home, we grieve this world, this life. It is not how it was meant to be, and it never will be, though we can get glimpses of home. I’ve been walking through life wondering when everything will finally be the way I want it to be—when I get to enjoy life and take it easy—so I live dissatisfied. But I remember being most satisfied when I was grieving. I need to continue to grieve my disappointment with life, even my disappointment with myself, to recognize that in my grief I am most connected to God, most connected to my true self, most alive, and most satisfied.