Archive for February, 2011

Recently I’ve found myself, once again, thinking about what brings people to faith. This has been prompted by two things: (1) I’m walking a church group through Tim Keller‘s best-selling book, “The Reason For God”, and (2) multiple conversations with Atheist and Agnostic friends. I love these conversations. They force me to refine my thinking, listen to new people and perspectives and process what I actually believe.

Though I’m having conversations with both Christians and non-Christians regarding faith, our language – in some cases – is strikingly similar. One linguistic construct we share is the notion of “a leap of faith.” What is commonly meant by a “a leap of faith” is acting as if something is true regardless of the evidence present. Both Christians and non-Christians mean the same things by this phrase. What I want to suggest is that taking “a leap of faith” is not a Biblical understanding of what it means to “come to faith.” More to the point, the Bible does not ask anyone to make  “leap of faith,” but the scriptures do call all of us to make a “leap at faith.” Here’s why:

Christianity Isn’t for Stupid People. To the dismay of many, Christianity requires thinking.  Taking “a leap of faith” connotes that evidence doesn’t matter. Another way we call faith stupid is by calling it “blind faith.” The truth is, no one does anything on “blind faith.” We all do what we do out of some calculation. The calculation may be ill-informed, misguided, or poorly constructed, but we don’t do anything that matters “blind.” No one takes a “leap of faith,” we negotiate the knowns and unknowns and select. That’s not a leap, it’s arriving at a decision point and taking a step, not a leap.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but my faith is neither blind nor stupid. Yes, it is the product of participation in a particular community over the course of a lifetime, but I have also read, studied, and questioned. My questions about the Bible, the nature of God, and the nature of the world are tougher and more accurate than the passing machinations of a freshman philosophy major somewhere because I bothered to seriously investigate. I investigated Christianity, Atheism, Buddhism, and Mormonism in particular. My list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve studied the world’s major worldviews enough to know what I’m talking about, and I’ve tried to take all claims seriously.

Taking a “leap at faith” means those both inside and outside orthodox faith owe it to themselves to investigate earnestly what is at the heart of the world and ask the toughest questions they can imagine. Christians should not fear what the hard sciences discover or what historians unearth. If we believe all truth is God’s truth, then what is there to unnerve us? Real faith is not a leap, it’s the intentional examination of the available evidence and then carefully formulating something that is philosophically coherent and realistically useable. The Apostle John even instructs us to do so in 1 John 4. Our job is to “test the spirits.”

Christianity Isn’t Mental Assent. Far too many folks think “a leap of faith” means “a change of mind.” Of course, in many ways, this is accurate (just think about the literal meaning of “repent”). Though coming to a place where you believe that God exist does mean that you’ve made a philosophical shift – that’s just the beginning, and can oftentimes mean very little. As James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, “even the demons believe…” (James 2.19). One of the great problems in the world is that Christianity has become nominal (Christian in name only) and notional (people like the ideas of Christianity).

Taking a “leap at faith” means looking at the life and teachings of Jesus and trying them on, taking them out for a stroll, not just agreeing with a few principles. Faith is a lived-experience, not a thought-experience. If interaction with Jesus doesn’t result in kinder words, radical generosity and justice, engagement with the poor and self-denial, it just ain’t faith. There’s only way to know if God is truly the Provider or if His Spirit will be with you in times of disappointment and brokenness; you have to try it. It’s not theoretical, it has to mean something. That’s why the people you know who have a mental assent to faith, but who haven’t experienced what the Apostle Paul would call “circumcision of the heart” are some of the worst people you know. Jesus’ instructions to those living in His time was simple: “Go and do likewise.” It was about trying it out and seeing if Jesus was right.

Ultimately I’m advocating that faith isn’t a stumble in the dark. Those inside the church who believe so, do God, themselves and their fellow-believers a great disservice. And those outside the church who would suggest that faith is “blind” simply haven’t done their homework. But worse still, Christians have made their homework harder by not reflecting the real thing.

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Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m one of the very fortunate and blessed people who have many people to love. My wife, my daughters, my church and family and friends throughout the country. These people are dearer to me than my own life.

And, likely, you have people like that in your life too.

You have people whom you cherish; folks you’d trade your life for. And even though Valentine’s Day is the most fabricated pseudo-holiday we celebrate, it’s never a bad idea to let the people you love know that you love them. So make a point today to say “I love you” to those people.

But I want to give us (the Christians who visit this space) a moment of pause. Why? Because those of us who follow the teachings of Jesus are called not only to love the ones we love, we are also called to love those we might be inclined to hate.

Jesus, in one of the clearest teachings in scripture, tells us, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” Instruction in righteousness doesn’t get any more perspicuous than that. “Love your enemies.” There. Done. Over. Got it?

Jesus is telling us what we already know: Anybody can love the people they love and hate their enemies, but it takes someone with God on the inside to cut against the grain and love those they would otherwise hate. Even though Jesus is giving us a command, most of us treat it like it’s a nice idea that might be good to get around to…someday!

That’s why, some of our supposed American Christian leaders exhort the church to repeal and replace this basic tenet of Jesus’ to love both our neighbor and our enemy. Terrorists, secularists, those on the “other side” of politics, culture, religion and sexuality are objects to be hated and defeated, rather than the destination of God’s in-breaking love for the world flowing through his church.

In a strange way, these leaders are right in their pronouncements concerning the threat of secularization in America. Our country is becoming more secular; but the church may be leading the way! The failure to love our enemies leads away – not toward – the cross.

So what would a church look like that actually believed Jesus was giving a command when he said “Love your enemies”? Any ideas?

I’d love to hear them.

Disconnecting to Connect

Posted: February 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

I recently wrote about connecting in a Crazy Busy world and overs-scheduled lives. We all know that we have too much going on and too little time to get everything done. Something, or someone, gets cheated. Knowing the problem, however is not a solution. Add to that the simple fact that being available to our coworkers, friends, family and having time for our hobbies and enthusiasms seems like the right thing to do and it’s no wonder that so many families are stressed to new heights. No matter how you shake it, all our busyness and our frenetic paces are keeping us from connecting with the people who are closest to us.

Throughout the years our family has had a number of conversations about maintaining our connectedness. Here’s what we try to do. Give the ideas you like a try.

  1. Unanswered Phones: Rochelle and I do not answer our cell phones from numbers we don’t know. I realize that sounds harsh, but if I don’t know you personally, why should I allow you to interrupt me, my family and what I’m doing? If it’s business related, you can call me at the office, during business hours. If it’s important, leave a message and we’ll get back to you. If it’s an emergency, call 911! We check our messages routinely, but don’t think, if I’m playing with or reading to my kids that I’m going to stop to talk to you. Just because someone else has a minute to talk doesn’t mean I do.
  2. Off at 8! At 8:00 pm each night we get off Facebook, Twitter, e-mail  and other electronics. The kids are in bed and this is our time. As Dr. Hallowell points out, the number one intimacy problem in America is not ED, it’s couples who don’t have time for each other. After 8, we’re talking, watching a DVR’d show, playing Wii or just taking care of home business. In a busy world, if you don’t systematize time it won’t happen.
  3. Protected Time. As a minister, I work on Sundays. I’m up at 5:00 am and exhausted by 2:00 pm. That means Sunday is not really a day for family. Therefore, our family protects Saturday with force. That’s our ONE day a week to be together. It’s rare for us not to be together all day every Saturday. Some people who think they need me don’t like this. I don’t care! This is our protected time.
  4. Friday Breakfast. Each Friday morning I take my oldest daughter to breakfast (the younger will go when she begins 5-day school). Many Fridays are uneventful, but this time exist for her to talk to me about things that concern her. We don’t have to schedule a big “sit down and talk,” when something happens in the family or at school. The time is built in, the agenda is her’s and it works. At least twice a month my daughter shares with me what’s going on inside her; often these are things she hadn’t talked about before. This is a time for greasy food and connection; to let her know that she will have special and specific time with her dad each week.

These are just a few ideas. And, of course, life being what it is, things adjust and change, but Rochelle and I are trying to be intentional about our family life and remembering that our first call to leadership and ministry is in our home.

What works for you? What are you doing to stay connected to your family and keep first things first?

Last Thursday evening I participated in the Common Ground Speaker Series which my daughter’s school supports. The evening’s speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell. Harvard and Tulane educated, Dr. Hallowell specializes in  advice on how to survive in an ultra-competitive, ultra fast, attention deficit society while remaining sane, how to raise happy children, the art of forgiveness and how to manage worry. His topic for the night found it’s genesis in his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!

Hallowell covered some much already traveled territory discussing the affects of the Internet, social media, cell phones and all other things technology. While this terrain is well-trodden, I think, he’s dead-on concerning the negative effects of “labor-saving” devices. What’s more, Hallowell points out that our time interfacing with screens isn’t only sucking our time and energy, it is also rewiring our brains. This could be good or bad. Who knows? At best, we are entering new territory.

The truth is that as we spend more time engaging socially – like reading blogs, etc… – we are spending less time with one another. We trust “friends” and “followers” we’ve never met with extraordinary personal information, while simultaneously not know the name of our neighbors. Worse still, we run the risk of marginalizing or ignoring the family in our midst.

Hallowell reminds us of two important and basic actions that many of us would be wise to regain:

1. Decide what matters most. Preaching a principle I learned from Andy Stanley years ago, I recently spoke on the topic of deciding what matters most and then shaping our action around them. Implicit in deciding is following up that decision with determined action so that our lives actual reflect what we say.

2. Recreate Boundaries. I am frequently shocked when I see the boundaries people have given up. This is especially true, I think, for Christians. Our willingness to be useful and used, for many, has resulted in sacrificing time and energy to our family. This is tantamount to abandoning our family.

Ultimately, I think Hallowell has much to say, but I’m not doing a book review. I’m just raising your attention to the importance of slowing down your life in order to maximize your impact with those closest to you. As a friend of mine says, “You can’t do anything well in a hurry.”