Tag Archives: Faith

From Descartes to Indiana Jones

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

Here’s the audio from today’s message (not sure if the audio player is working, so I’ll just put a download link.

Faith … and Doubt (sermon audio)

If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, here’s the outline:

  1. Descartes was awesome, but misguided.
  2. The world has embraced Descartes’ definitions for “know”, “believe”, “rational”, and “faith”.
  3. The church, too, has embraced Descartes skepticism, albeit with differing results.
  4. Some try to meet the evidential standard, by mustering evidence to prove the tenets of faith beyond all doubt. The Christian Apologetics movement is a result of this impulse.
  5. Some concede that the standard of rational certainty can never be met, and allow skeptics to define faith as irrational. This also allows them the freedom to ignore any logical impediments presented by new scientific evidence, challenging passages of scripture, and to uncritically accept everything received by tradition.
  6. Both reactions are wrong, because they concede Descartes’ definitions.
  7. Faith is not irrational, and it is not the opposite of doubt.
  8. Faith is the commitment to something as true, on the basis of good evidence, but where certainty is impossible.
  9. Indiana Jones is awesome, except for the last movie.
  10. We don’t have to fear doubt. Everyone doubts. Everyone from Hebrews 11, everyone in church history, even me, even Mother Teresa.
  11. Three things we should do when we doubt.
  12. Keep worshiping (Matthew 28:17)
  13. Keep fellowship (John 20:26)
  14. Keep reading (John 20:31)
  15. These are all acts of faith. They are not irrational, they are not certainty, they are faith.

If you want the full experience (minus the actual experience!), you can download everything here:

Faith … and Doubt (manuscript)

Faith … and Doubt (keynote presentation)

Previous in series: 7 Days of Doubt

7 Days of Doubt

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

I’m reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 20, and he makes an observation that I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Doubting Thomas” story, 8 days pass between Thomas’ proclamation of doubt, and Jesus reappearance to confirm his resurrection. Henry’s interpretation is that the delay serves as a kind of rebuke to Thomas.

That’s not what struck me, though. Thomas basically calls the disciples fools, and says “Someone has duped you, but not me.” And yet, when the story picks up 8 days later, Thomas is hanging out with the 12 (11 at this point, sans Judas). He’s still part of the community, still in the fellowship. Imagine what those 8 days must have been like! What else would the other disciples be talking about, apart from the resurrection? It had to have been the topic at every meal, every gathering. The resurrection, what it meant, what they should be planning for the future. I wonder if, when the week had passed, Thomas had begun to hope that it was true, if he was prepared to believe it, or if he become cynical in the face of their foolish (to him) faith.

I like the precedent that this sets for the church and those of us who are doubters in her midst. There is space for puzzling through, without breaking fellowship.

Previous in series: Digital Art Photos

Next in series: From Descartes to Indiana Jones

The Third Rail – Doubt

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

A week from this Sunday, Chad and Erica will be leading worship at our little dutch chapel in Orange County, and I will be bringing the bible-thumping fiery rhetoric from the pulpit. You should definitely come check it out. Or, if not, you should at least help me plan my message.

I think I’m going to talk about the third rail of the life of faith: doubt.

Here, let me make it a little spookier:

DOUBT!

Topics on the table:

Doubting Thomas
Mother Theresa
Mark 9:24

So – hit me. If you had to put a percentage on is, what’s the ratio of belief to doubt for the things in your personal creed? How influential is the belief of others in reinforcing your belief? Do you feel the freedom to express honest doubt about fundamental things (scripture, resurrection, omnipotence) when you’re in the company of other believers? And most importantly, Doug, will I still have a job waiting when I get back? For that matter, Phil, will I still have a job waiting when I come before the faith interrogation high council?

Next in series: Digital Art Photos

Faith = Doubt

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Webster’s defines the word “Faith,” as follows:

1a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one’s promises (2): sincerity of intentions 2a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b(1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust 3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction ; especially : a system of religious beliefs

I hadn’t looked up this definition when I started crafting this post in my head. I was hoping against hope that there would be something like the, “Firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” statement. I was immensely gratified to read it, as it props up my little thesis.

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Near the very end of the last Gospel, in John chapter 20, we find the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the Apostle who wasn’t buying the news that Jesus had been resurrected. He was rational, cool, and frankly, pretty well reasoned in his statements.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Downright reasonable, if you ask me.

A week later, Jesus shows up, and has Thomas go ahead and get a nice, long feel on those scars. Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, ”My Lord and my God!” Jesus, being Jesus, has this awesome little zinger for him.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I haven’t seen Jesus. I haven’t put my hands on his scars. I didn’t see Him forming the foundation of the earth. I don’t know how it will all shake out in an end times scenario. I am not certain that every Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, and Democrat will all burn in eternal damnation. I have a sneaking suspicion that God is greater and kinder than our little, offensive value judgements. I have also, in my darkest moments, been terrified that this whole Jesus thing is just a big sham, a human construct to give some meaning to our random, miniscule existence.

But still … I believe.

At the end of the day, I cannot shake the feeling loose that the words and teachings of this Jewish carpenter are not from this world. At the end of the day, I calculate my doubts, and I calculate the evidence, and realize that this equation will simply not balance out, and I take a deep breath, and make a choice to hold some things in a state of unresolved tension, and I simply… believe.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega, said that I will be blessed in the presence of my fully reasonable doubts, for I am a man of faith.

What Africa Needs Now

An atheist ex-pat from Malawi writes about how important Evangelical missionaries are to the future of Africa. Not just the work they do, but what they believe. I read it from a position of ignorance, but I hope that he is right. Looking forward to discussing this with my brother-in-law Scott, a missionary in Tanzania.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Read the rest of the article here.

I know some the folks who hang out here have some unique insight into this issue, and I’d love to hear it.

10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

How much did Mary know about the things that were happening in her, and through her? How much of Isaiah and Micah had percolated into her understanding from brother or father, some man who had received some formal training, who had been taught to read the texts? When she breathed the word “Messiah”, what collection of ideas did that word stand in for?

Mary treasured up these things, and pondered them.

I would love to know the pathways that her mind ran down as she marveled. The months between the angel and the birth must have seemed an eternity – certainly long enough for doubt to creep in. Did he really say … does this really mean … will he really be …

When the shepherds arrived, with stories and songs, it must have been a flood of emotions, confirming everything that Mary had been told.

Unto you is born this day a child, and He is Christ the Lord.

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

20 things I now know, that I didn’t know the first time around

  1. There’s nothing that comes out of a baby that won’t wash off your skin.
  2. Crying is normal. Very, very normal. It’s not always your job to fix it.
  3. At every baby shower, there was always someone who thought to give us diapers. I laughed and laughed at that person, thinking it was the lamest gift ever. Thank you, diaper lady. Bless your 50 year-old been-through-this-enough-times-to-know-what-I’m-doing soul.
  4. I know why the word “Peace” is so often found next to the word “Quiet”.
  5. Children are born scientists. They run their own experiments to see how the world operates. My job involves knowing which experiments are likely to maim her, and heading those off.
  6. There are different degrees of “Clean”.
  7. Some days, you can literally see their brain grow. One minute, they don’t understand the concept of mirrors. An hour later, they have lined up all their stuffed animals in front of the full length mirror, and are holding a fashion show with mommy’s jewelry.
  8. Wednesday morning reading group at the Burbank Public Library is the last bastion of sexual discrimination in parenting roles. I’ve been a regular now for 2 months, and every mom there still keeps an eye on Sophia to see if she is actually an abducted child being read to against her will by a crazy man. I try to ease the tension by making small talk with her in a loud voice. “Ha ha! Look Sophia! Isn’t it fun to be reading in public with your daddy, which is me, who is fully employed and not at all creepy! Ha ha!” It doesn’t seem to be working.
  9. She doesn’t need my help as much as I think she does. She needs to fail at things, and that’s part of my job too.
  10. Babywise. It works.
  11. Parenting is a team sport.
  12. The 14-year-old unskilled extortionist next door gets $8 an hour for watching TV and eating my microwaved corn-dogs while our daughter sleeps. That, my friends, is a sweet gig.
  13. Your relationship with your own parents enters a new and strange phase when they become grandparents. You realize that they were making it all up as they went along, and they realize that you now know that, and everybody hopes that you can keep up the charade long enough to get the next crop of kids out the door.
  14. Sometime in your parenting career, you will find a half-eaten, slobbery animal cracker in your hand without having any idea how it got there. You will shrug, and finish the animal cracker. See #6.
  15. Being a dad has brought out the best and worst parts of my character.
  16. Giving children choices seems to be all the rage these days. Here’s the deal – kids don’t have any clue what to do with choices. They are confused and frustrated when you give them 6 options for dinner. You’re the parent. You decide.
  17. If a dad dresses his daughter, and takes her out into public, and somebody comments on how cute she looks, dad will dress her in those exact same clothes from then on. We fear fashion failure.
  18. Don’t join a battle of wills that you are not prepared to win.
  19. If someone comes to your house, and sits on your couch, and reaches into the cushions and pulls out a half-eaten apricot mashed into a Lego, if that person asks, “How did this get here?”, that person is not a parent.
  20. I don’t own her joy. Children do wonderful things. They sing songs in public. They wave and smile at street people, who wave and smile back. They play with anyone who brought a toy to the park, without caring about their country of origin, or what language they speak. They play the blinking game with crotchety old men on benches in the mall, and get them to stick their tongues out. None of this belongs to me. Children are a gift from God, given to the whole world, under the care of parents for a few brief moments before they burst gloriously into their own light.

All of this is good stuff to know, since we’re now gearing up for round 2!

big sister now

Love like Gravity

You breathe in, you breathe out, and that quickly, everything you know about love changes.

We were driving home today from Phoenix, where the whole family had gathered to celebrate my Grandmother’s 90th birthday. People flew in from all over to be together, to share memories, to hold her hand and talk softly. She’s not doing very well – she had to be wheeled to the birthday party in a hospice chair, with an attendant nearby most of the time – and the unspoken thought of the weekend was that we might not have another chance to talk with her before she’s gone from us. She fell, early last week, and had surgery to pin her hip together. There’s no such thing as a minor fall or a simple surgery when you’re 90, and you can see some of the strength ebbing from her eyes when you talk to her.

She met Sophia for the first time, and Sophia reached out for her, and her Great-Grandma kissed her, as old women and young girls have always kissed, and they shared that secret joy called family, even though one is too young to know what it means, and one is so old she sometimes forgets, and even though they share none of the same blood, and have only just met – love sometimes works that way.

There is a lullaby that my wife and I sing to our daughter, and as this weekend unfolded, I kept singing the words over and over in my head.

Sophia, my beauty, I love you,
But you don’t know yet what that means

Love always works that way – it is given to those who are ignorant of its full value, in a thousand private acts of sacrifice. My daughter doesn’t know that we love her – she has no knowledge of its absence, and so, to her, it is just life. It is just what Mama and Dadda are to her. May it never be otherwise!

This is the great mystery of love – that my Grandmother and my daughter can be caught up in its grasp, even though they had never met, and may never meet again. It is a force of nature, like gravity, and even though it might never be played out between them in those thousand acts of patience, of compassion, of sacrifice, it still binds them together.

My daughter doesn’t know this yet, but it is also true – I don’t know what love means either.

We all love in ignorance. Truly. We give in ignorance, and we receive in ignorance, and by these commissions we practice the art of love, knowing nothing of the force that compels it. It is the strongest force in the world.

There are deep rivers
beneath these still waters
and this love is more than it seems
this love is more than it seems

On the 210 freeway, driving home from Phoenix, at 80 mph, our left rear tire separated. The tread peeled off from the tire, and in an instant the steering wheel jerked loose from Gretchen’s hands, and we started to skid across 4 lanes of busy Sunday afternoon traffic.

As Gretchen fought for control, she grabbed the wheel, struggling to straighten out the van. We swerved sharply in the opposite direction, and as we did, I felt the van start to break loose – I saw the mountains sink below the window, and the pavement rise up on the other side, and felt my stomach turn upside down. The van started to tip over.

Your mother and I both had tutors
In heaven, and down here below

Sometimes Sophia decides she wants to do something, and nothing can dissuade her. If I push the matter, I can see her eyes flare up, and I see a glimpse of how strong her personality will be.

My dear daughter, you have no idea.

As the days of your life unfold, your mother and I will sit with you, and tell you the stories that you are a part of. My girl, there is fire in your veins – you are a daughter to strong women, women who love fiercely, and live deeply. You are the daughter of women who boarded ships to sail to strange lands, who forged homes in dark and inhospitable corners of the earth, who built businesses and fortunes in times when women were not allowed in boardrooms, who worked 12 hours a night to pay for their children’s medical care and schooling, who sent husbands and sons off to war and prayed for their safe return, women who never finished high school but whose daughters hold master’s degrees – my dear little girl, you are the daughter of strong, beautiful women.

And the strong and beautiful women who are your heritage have always taught their sons and daughters how to practice the art of love. They love like breathing in and out, like gravity, and it is a force that compels the world to turn.

Whatever we know of love, we learned at their feet.

You weren’t old enough to understand the words that Grandma said as she held you, but I will repeat them to you until you are.

“Love them.” She was looking at you, and at your mother, but she was talking to me. “Love them – you know that’s your most important job, don’t you? They are God’s blessing to you. Love them.”

They taught us the meaning
of love without ending
and, baby girl, that’s how we know
baby girl, that’s how we know

Gretchen was driving, my brother was in the front seat, and I was in the back seat next to Sophia, who was strapped into her car seat. We had all of our luggage in the back of the van, along with a big TV that my dad had sent with us to drop off for him at home.

As my stomach turned upside down, and the van tilted further and further, as the tires screamed and horns around us blared, I threw myself across Sophia, grabbing the far side of her seat with both hands, crushing her little body beneath my chest.

All I could think about was the massive TV spinning forward from the back of the van, crashing into us.

Sophia, my beauty, I love you,
But you don’t know yet what that means

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but I have never loved you more than when I was crushing your face into my chest, and you were screaming and beating me with your fists.

I can’t make you understand this yet, but everyone in that car would have done the same thing. And so would Papa, and Grammy Weiss, and Grandma Lee, and Grandpa, and your mother’s sisters, and their husbands, and your Uncle David, and Auntie Kim, and your dad’s aunts and uncles, and his cousins.

And even though she can’t move her legs, and even though she has to have help feeding herself, and getting dressed, and even though she sometimes gets confused and can’t remember where she is, even though her body no longer obeys the commands of her heart and mind; in her heart, and in her mind, your father’s father’s mother would do the same.

And behind her, a hundred generations whose bodies gave out before they could demonstrate their love for you.

There are deep rivers
beneath these still waters

My grandmother’s love was almost always the peaceful sort – the still waters. It was gentle, and compassionate, and it usually was accompanied by simple cards, and gifts, and thoughtful words.

And it was poured into my dad over 60 years of simple recurring acts of love.

Which was how he taught it to me.

And I will teach it to you in that same way – by simple repetition of silent sacrifices.

What I cannot explain to you, the deep mystery of love, is this: the still waters of simple repetition and silent sacrifice are the ripples on the surface of a raging torrent.

I will swing you in my arms just to hear you laugh, and to share in your joy.

I will also raise my arms to shield you against any onslaught, and will spend my last breath so that you can draw one more.

And though I cannot explain to you how, it is the same thing. Both acts are drawn from the same well. It is love.

At the last moment, when the van pulled itself upright once more, and as your mother guided it across 4 lanes of traffic to a safe stop on the side of the freeway, the first thing she did was reach back to touch you. You quieted instantly, and reached out and took her hand.

this love is more than it seems,
this love is more than it seems

In a few days, or weeks, or God willing, a few months more, Irene Lee will breathe her last breath, and someone beautiful will have gone out of the world.

I’m glad you got the chance to meet her, and I’m glad that you reached out to her, and that she kissed you.

When you grow, and you begin to imitate your mother, and she shows you how to live in that secret strength that the women in both of our families have always carried, and you begin to practice the art of love, it will not be something new that you do – it will be something very old. It will be something handed down from generation to generation, lived out in a thousand acts of patience, of compassion, of sacrifice.

Love is learned by imitation, and taught by repetition, and as my Grandmother leaves this earth, I pray you will take her place in this dance.

sophiasong.mp3

Sophia’s Lullaby
by Michael Lee

ccmpatrol

I have a new favorite site. Chad, fasten your seatbelt. CCMPatrol. They review Contemporary Christian Music. Oh man, do they ever review it. The thing is, they actually like music, and they really do think that it’s possible to do good music in the CCM world. That’s what makes them so bitter (and funny) when bands do it poorly.

Part of their theory of CCM is that most songs today are written by an animatronic robot computer, which follows a strict formula for lyric writing:

The [violent weather metaphor] crashes to the [Psalmy landscape metaphor]
Sometimes I wish I could [Biblical miracle metaphor]
Just like [Biblical patriarch name ]
But I can’t because I’m only a [ man / woman / sinner ]

Chorus:
[ Praying / crying / calling out ] for [ sunshine / silver lining image ]
I want to see the [ positive weather metaphor ]
I want to see beyond the [ negative weather metaphor ]
[ First line of chorus ] + [ song title ]

Oh man, that’s good eats. Enjoy.

(ht: OpenSwitch)

Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Sodom series

  1. This morning’s sermon will be on …
  2. Sermon Prep (part 1)
  3. Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
  4. Sermon Prep, part 3
  5. Sermon Prep: Finished!

Lot is an interesting character in this story. At first glance, he’s the hero, but as the story unfolds, we start to see some things that make us question his choices. In fact, one of the questions that keeps popping up for me when I read Genesis 19 is why Lot is called “Righteous”? What sets him apart, other than one moment of courage that, itself, seems sullied by a horrific compromise? So, here’s my run sheet on the guy.

Lot

19:1 Sitting at the gates of the city – this is a position of prominence in the city, the equivalent of a city council meeting, or high court. Lot has obviously done well for himself in Sodom.

Lot mirrors the actions of Abraham in 18:2, bowing to the angels.

Hospitality, one of the cardinal virtues of the ANE. Protection is implied, consent of the guest is a show of honor.

19:3 patsar me’hod – “he single-mindedly, obstinately pressed upon them with urgency, exceeding force”. Lot seems very aware of the kind of welcome the visitors will receive at the hands of the city. How long has Lot been living with the disparity between his position of respect and prominence in a wicked city, and his internal moral voice? The arrival of the guests seems to be a watershed moment for Lot’s moral identity.

19:6 Lot exits the safety of the house. He presumed that his prominence in the city would be a safeguard against the mob?

19:7,8 “do not act wickedly … they are under the shadow of my roof.” Lot’s perspective here is instructive. His assumptions about the people will be important later when we try to understand what the sin of sodom was. He assumes that they are not morally ignorant (they understand wickedness). They know his obligations as a host to the visitors (shadow of my roof). His offer of his daughters shows that Lot believes that the crowd is motivated by sensual lusts, which he hopes to divert away from his guests.

The offer of his daughters is ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly. What’s are the relevant features of this offer? Women as property under the sovereign rule of the male head of household, safety of guests over safety of family, homosexual vs. heterosexual?, how would this affect their status as “betrothed”? Are there other examples of this kind of barter?

How does Lot get called “Righteous” in light of this hideous sort of compromise?

The rejection of the offer shows that Lot’s assumptions about the mob’s motivation was wrong. There seems to be an air of violence about their intent, not just sensuality.

19:9 “who are you to declare judgement against us? You’re not from here, yet in your wealth and status you presume to declare what is right and wrong for us? Why should we bend to your moral pronouncements?” c.f. 19:1 – is this a latent resentment against Lot’s prominence, or a general revolt against moral restraint?

19:14 Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was joking about God’s impending wrath. Are they from the city? How does Lot’s willingness to marry into the city fit with his inner turmoil between morality and position? That they take Lot’s warning as a joke might indicate that they are unused to hearing language about righteousness, justice, and judgement coming from Lot.

19:16 But he hesitated. This is it. This is the window into Lot’s soul. In Sodom, he has wealth, he has position and prominence, he is integrating his family into the city, and everything that he has in this world is within those walls. The laughter of his sons-in-law has given him pause. Who are these visitors? How do I know that they’re telling the truth? Maybe my sons-in-law are right, and this is a huge joke. Should I risk everything by abandoning the city? It’s been a long time (how many years since the split w/ abraham?) since I’ve heard anything about, or from, Yahweh, and after all, the covenant is with Abraham, not with me … Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

19:19 Now he believes. Once outside the city walls, he sees the lovingkindness (checed – mercy? grace?) and compassion that motivated the angels to rescue him (Doug, how very reformed! Lot does not believe, and then is saved; he is saved, and then believes. And then runs!)

19:20 Lot is still looking for a city. Escape to the mountians? They have no Starbucks there! What if I just move to the suburbs instead, and chill over here in this little town.

19:23 The rising sun. Measurements of time are prominent in this story. The angels arrive at dusk, the violent mob assembles at night, at first light the angels urge Lot to run, and when the sun rises, he reaches the safe city.

That’s the wrapup. So, why is Lot called righteous? What righteous actions did Lot take? He offered hospitality, he protected the safety of his guests, and (though it was a bit late in coming) believed in the lovingkindness of God in protecting him and his family. He fled, which was an act of faith. But he was also a man at home in a wicked city, prominent among the people, who seemed to at least be able to navigate the moral ambiguity of that place. He offers up his daughters to be raped by an angry mob. He betrothed his daughters to faithless men. In the moment of decision, his faith falters, and he has to be dragged to safety.

So, why call Lot righteous? Why save him from the destruction of Sodom? 19:29 might be an indication that it actually has nothing at all to do with him or his actions: it says that God remembered Abraham, and so saved Lot.

Previous in series: Sermon Prep (part 1)

Next in series: Sermon Prep, part 3