Posts Tagged ‘belief’
The stories of our lives as Christians fall into one of two main plot templates: The Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.
Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and I can’t save myself. I see now that you died to pay for my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. I want you to be in control from this moment forward.
Before things get a little rough here, let me just say that I know a lot of believers who began their journey with this prayer. I’ve used it over the years in times when God has allowed me a front row seat to a person’s decision to follow Christ. I have no doubt in my mind that, when prayed with sincerity, God uses this prayer for His glory. That said, when I say that this is one of the two plot templates for the story of a Christian’s life, I’m referring to it less as a temporal communique, announcing one’s intentions at the moment of surrender, and more as a theological framework for understanding God, His Word, His Gospel, humanity and the relationship between all of these.
As a normative form for basic theology, the Sinner’s Prayer isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete. It’s a thin plot. And so goes the stories of so many Christians. A few years ago, we conducted an informal study through relationships we had with some fellow pastors. We asked them to casually ask a handful of committed people in their churches to just verbalize the Gospel. Every pastor inevitably came back to us with great distress, admitting that even those they thought would surely respond with ease faltered and sputtered, sometimes merely stitching together fragments of Sunday School answers. Why has this become our reality in the church, that far too many fail to firmly grasp the core of their professed belief?
Lack. Of. Depth. In our ever-increasing busyness we choose to forego the slow, laborious path to depth and wisdom, and instead hitch ourselves to the rocket ship of knowledge and ideas. We’re no longer sleuths–detectives meticulously examining God’s Word. Rather, we’ve become browsers, satisfied when we find one or two sound bites from a gifted preacher. We might have enough to impress in a conversation over coffee but that’s it. If ‘I’m a sinner and I want you to save me, Lord’ is all we ever narrate with our lives, then how can we expect to participate in the complex, mysterious and deep story that is the Gospel?
If you want to truly live out the Gospel, then the Gospel has to live in you. I know these people. Their lives are following a different plot line. The Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus teaches us profoundly deep truths in this startlingly simple prayer. I encourage you to do a thorough study on it. For our purposes here, though, I just want to highlight the context, order and completeness of the Lord’s Prayer as a plot for our stories.
First, the context. Jesus explodes our present tendencies towards hyper individualism. Notice the pronouns are all plural–our and us, not my and me. God is community, the Father, Son and Spirit. The Body is also community; we are family under our Heavenly Father. In our family, we are only as strong as our weakest member. Jesus reminds us of our dependency on God and each other. It’s not enough to be mindful of your own well-being. (Note the pronouns in the Sinner’s Prayer–I, my).
Second, the order. We find six requests in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three are focused on God and the last three are focused on our need for God. People whose lives tell this story never misplace God as first and highest. But those who live out the Sinner’s Prayer struggle to see God bigger than a solution to a problem.
Third, the completeness. The Gospel as narrative is often summarized by four words: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We use this as the framework within which we discover its deeper truth and beauty. In the Sinner’s Prayer, we can identify only Fall and Redemption–an incomplete Gospel. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells the whole story:
- Creation: “Our Father…”
- Fall: “…forgive us our debts…”
- Redemption: “…deliver us from evil.”
- Restoration: “Your kingdom come…”
It’s all there. As it should be in our lives. My question for you is this: Are you living out the Sinner’s Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer? Each one shapes the way we see God and hence ourselves. The path to meaning and purpose in this life follow’s Jesus’ words. He wasn’t just giving us a prayer to say, He was revealing the thick plot of a life worth living.
photo credit: http://blog.faboverfifty.com
One day I was sitting on the patio of a hotel in La Fonda, Mexico, about two hours south of San Diego. My friends and I were looking out over the ocean when we saw an old ultralight aircraft buzzing by. It was basically a hang glider with an air boat fan loosely attached to the back. Since our hotel sat on a cliff about a hundred feet above the ocean, we had a front row seat to the show. When he landed on the hard sand beach below, he got out and started to wave at us to come down to him. One of the guys with us–we’ll call him Daniel–looked around and said, “I’m going!” And just like that, Daniel scurried down the cliff and out to meet the pilot.
We watched as they probably exchanged short phrases in Spanish, and then Daniel looked up and waved at us. His visible smile was cause for concern. Daniel quickly climbed in the back and they started to taxi down the beach! We started screaming, “Daniel!! What are you doing?! Don’t do it!!” We were too far away and the motor was too loud.
The ultralight strained under the extra weight but made it off the ground as we stood there, totally dumbfounded at Daniel’s decision making skills. They banked left over the ocean, continued to climb, floated back over land… and over the high hills behind us. And then they were gone.
We looked at each other in utter shock. After a long, long silence, one of my friends looked up at the empty sky in Daniel’s direction and said, “Guys… I don’t think he’s coming back.” My mind raced. My emotions began to overtake me. “What are we going to tell his family?” 5 minutes grew to 10. Then to 20. Then to 30. We were all feeling sick (no, it wasn’t the water.) Our doubt was threatening to destroy our hope. But we collectively, if silently, resolved to believe Daniel would be returned to us safely. We waited to see…
Belief, faith, hope. We cultivate these things many different ways. But what about doubt? Does it play a role? I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but I actually think doubt is critical to the faith-forming process. We tend to run from situations that cause doubt because doubt is resistance. Often times we’re convinced we can grow deeper, stronger, more mature in our faith in the absence of resistance. It doesn’t work that way. Think about these examples: working out, passing a test, surgery, relationships… In every case, real growth requires resistance–an opposing force acting against muscle, mind, body, sensibilities.
The opposing force in the formation of faith and belief is doubt. We shouldn’t hide from doubt, we should welcome it into our spiritual journey.
So here’s my question. If doubt is the necessary opposing force, how do we let it work in our lives in a way that strengthens and deepens our faith?
By the way… yes. Daniel made it back safely.
photo credit: Carol Bond
Last night I dropped our kids off at my parents’ house for a sleepover. Before I even got out the door, they were already busy with a… “Jacob, what are you doing?” “We’re doing a craft with Gammie.” “What is it?” “You put this paper Santa in a dish of water and in 6 hours, it gets all fluffy.” The smile on his and his sister Morgan’s face told the story. They were so excited to ‘do a craft’ with my mom.
Tonight, I interviewed Jacob about encounter with Fluffy Santa: (completely unedited
[me] Jacob, why were you excited to do a craft last night?
[Jacob] I wanted to enjoy doing something with Gammie and Poppie.
Couldn’t you have just watched a video of someone else doing it, instead of waiting all that time to see the results?
Why would anyone want to watch a video when they could actually do it?? I wanted to experience the whole thing.
Why is ‘experiencing’ things important to you?
I enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen–the surprise of discovering new things.
Jacob is one of my mentors. Seriously. Think about it–his grasp of the human experience is so elemental and pure compared to mine. His responses to my questions reveal a profound truth about human nature–that we are designed to learn, grow, believe and flourish primarily by our experiences, secondarily by our knowledge. And, our experiences inform our knowledge, not the other way around. And, true community–relationships with others–forms best through shared experiences.
So, here’s the question I have. What happens between childhood and adulthood that causes us to forget what Jacob so eloquently articulated (and what my parents so thoughtfully demonstrated)? As kids, we reveled in ‘getting our hands dirty’ in everything. We sought and loved new experiences, and basked in the glow of discovering something new. Jacob and Morgan are 8 and 4 respectively–they are true ‘digital natives.’ But even being born into the digital age hasn’t done anything to diminish their natural desire for doing.
Maybe as adults we’ve become jaded. Or perhaps we’re just too busy. When I asked Jacob about watching a video, his head tilted to the side and he said, “Why would anyone want to watch a video when they could actually do it??” As adults, we’re much more likely to say, “Why would anyone want to waste time doing it when they could just watch a video?” Somehow we’ve lost our sense of wonder and enjoyment of not knowing what’s going to happen.
Enlightenment philosophy has convinced us that the pathway to discovery and deeper community is through cognitive process. My eight-year-old son knows better. Friends, we need to do more crafts with each other.
photo credit: http://www.mydestination.com
I first experienced South Africa at age sixteen. The month-long journey completely changed my life.
A lot of sixteen-year-olds would’ve walked into a situation like that blind, but not me . I spent countless hours reading about the climate, topography, culture, people and language (books, people… no Internet back then. Lots and lots of books). When I discovered that South Africa has 11 official languages, I was totally intimidated. No matter how many books I read, or how many exercises I completed, I just couldn’t grasp any of them.
When I first arrived and settled into the home of the family who would host me for week 1, my worst fears came true. They were a lovely bunch who chose to only speak Afrikaans. That first dinner was… awkward. Eating strange food with strangers making strange noises. I remember going to bed that night ready to just give up and shut down.
The next night was more of the same, but something incredible happened. One of the weird noises caught my attention. It sounded like, “Buy a donkey.” I strained to hear it again in the midst of the conversation. There it was again! Now I was looking for a pattern. Soon, I noticed someone would say something, another person would hand a dish of food across the table, and then the receiver of the food would say, “Buy a donkey!” It happened three or four times and then… I GOT IT! They’re saying, “Thank you!” “Buy a donkey” means “Thank you!” What a breakthrough.
By the end of the third night, I was picking up on all sorts of words and phrases. In a moment of confidence I blurted out, “Wat is vir nagereg?!” Silence at the table. Silence and stares. Then, they all exploded in laughter. The dad put his arm around me and said, in English, “That was great! Where did you learn this?” I explained I picked it up by listening to them over the last three nights. My pronunciation may have been a little off, but they knew what I said, “What’s for dessert?” That was the best melkkos I’ve ever had. “Baie dankie.”
Coming away from that first week in South Africa I was struck by a revelation. One that has informed my approach to nearly every pursuit, especially education and faith. One that may also be supported by your own experience. I discovered that we are wired to learn by immersion–by doing. It probably would have taken me years to read enough books on Afrikaans to be confident in that situation, but in 6 nights of sitting at a table with people who only spoke that language, I was able to follow conversation and even occasionally participate. Imagine how well I would’ve spoken Afrikaans if I’d stayed with the family longer.
If it’s human nature to learn by immersion–by doing–then how can we apply that in our faith community? What needs to change? What needs to decrease? What needs to increase? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
When Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” what did he mean? Is he right?
Though his statement seems to fly in the face of modern thinking, I think he’s absolutely right.
This morning I was fishing with my kids, their cousins and Grandpa. When we came back to the house, Grandma asked if we’d caught anything. The kids were clamoring over each other’s words to tell her how many fish, how big and how awesome their results were. Grandma’s wide eyes darted back and forth but in the end, all she really knew was that they caught something.
Then Grandpa walked over with his camera. As he flipped through the photos, Grandma instantly knew what kind of fish, how many, how big and yes, how awesome.
The pictures were far more valuable than the data. And I believe that’s a universal truth.