Choosing and Sharing

Newport beachs

It has been a rough couple of weeks. Heath issues. Car issues. Cash flow issues. Car issues again after supposedly being fixed.  My stepdaughter, of whom I have become quite fond and who my wife adores, just left, moving to Colorado for a new life, causing an understandable melancholy in the woman I love beyond all others. My schedule has been blown apart for a couple of weeks now and I am a more than bit discombobulated. My house, inside and out, is pretty much out of control.  I don’t feel like I am doing my best work anywhere, for someone who prides himself on the quality of what he does, that’s not a good place to be.

Nothing’s resolved. I have no idea the timetable for any of it to be resolved. But I am OK, odd as that sounds. Most people would not notice that things are falling apart for a while.

Last week I was talking to a good friend of mine in Philadelphia. He asked me a question. Was my sense of faith because I am naturally a calm, stable person? Or am I calm stable person because I have a faith?

Most philosophical questions are kind of hard for me. I have to think on them. And I had to think on this one a while. That has more to do with my slow emotional thinking than the hardness of the question.

The truth is this. While my mom did her best to instill a sense of “Never let them see you sweat.” in me, it never really took. Oh, I was stable looking on the outside, but that was the “never let them see you sweat.” act, not reality. I stuffed it all, and worried in silence, all the while inside I was popping more antacids than you can imagine. I am sure somewhere there is an entire Tums factory dedicated to me.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what God meant when he says in Matthew 6:25-27, 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Somehow I think he means ACTUALLY do not worry. And dang, I was not good at that. Mostly now, I am. I’m not sweating the stuff on my plate right now. I want to get my latest round of tests done so I can know whether or not I have a medical battle ahead of me. And I’d like to have my old Trooper back, preferably with a bill that won’t make me wince. And the money stuff will take care of itself. It’s all in the mail somewhere, and slow as Vermont mail is, it does eventually show up. And we’ll adjust to my stepdaughter being half a country away. I’m concerned about it all, but not worried. What changed? How did I get from a 24/7 antacid addict to a place of peace? (Most of the time. I won’t lie, now and again I still worry. But it’s rare.)

Time and experience and a mindful understanding..

Let me explain.

I’ve come close to death at least 3 times in my 63, almost 64 years. Sickness has plagued me more than once, often with a longish time of tests and waiting and a longish path back to health.

I’ve been dirt poor once or twice, so poor I had to choose between medicine I needed and food. The memory is vivid and still feels acute, as if it were new.

I’ve come completely, and I mean completely undone emotionally and spiritually. I lived in a black place for some time, struggling to rebuild my faith and struggling to cope with depression and emotions I was utterly overwhelmed by.

As I told my wife the other day, once you have survived certain things, you come to understand you can and will survive anything. That gives you a leg up on taking a few less Tums in your day.

But that has nothing to do with faith, does it? Lots of people survive and end up irretrievably broke, constantly anxious, a bundle of worry. and I mean LOTS of people. We all encounter them every day.

Let me share what has been different for me, and this is just my experience, not quite a blanket (more on that later.)

As I went through all these things in my life, I always went to God. I acted in the belief that he was a God who loved his children and a God who listened to prayer. When I was in too deep, I prayed harder. I read more in my bible. I acted in faith that he would work to get me through and that it would be OK.

And of course, it did.

I’m not whole from all these things. I have scars, inside and out. Sit down and talk with me some time and I’ll gladly share them with you. No, I am not whole, but things worked out. Disasters led to something new. New opportunities. New understanding. New thinking. New love. God has quite the imagination.

It has taken me choosing to believe God was at work, to trust that he was when things were going to Hell in a handbasket, and to thank him and see him at work as things got better.

And now, a messy pile of disasters later, I see the pattern, when I include God in my personal disaster recovery program, it works out faster, and better than I could have imagined. Because I chose.

It’s the difference between floundering and knowing it will be OK, even if I don’t know how it will get better. In fact, I never saw the paths to recovery that God chose coming. But his path got me to better places.

Every time.

So that is how I got there. But I’m not done yet.

You see, one of the things we are called to do is witness. That word, witness, I think has gotten all turned around. Many people feel it means to evangelize, even to the point of obnoxiousness. And we are uncomfortable with that. I know I am, and I’m a bi-vocational preacher. My family upbringing and my personality (introverted as they come.). Being in New England doesn’t help either. It’s a place where decorum and manners still matter.

But we Christians are stuck with that commandment that shows up and again and again. We are called to be witnesses.  But we are uncomfortable with the idea. It brings to mind standing on a soapbox somewhere and shouting out our faith.

But that is not what witnessing is. The term witness, in the new testament, is a legal term that means simply, telling what you know. You don’t need to preach. You are not required to talk about God as if you were in a tent revival down South (I’ve been to few of those. They amazing, but I’m just not wired to preach that way.) You don’t have to have theological degrees.

You just have to share what you know. “I went through this. And God helped me through by (fill in the blank).

Why witness?

Well, we could fall on the old adage and song that (Sing along with me) “The bible tells me so.), but why does the bible tell us so?  I have beome a big believer that when the bible tells us to do something, it’s generally for our own good and the good of people in general. That the rules are not arbitrary.

When we share our own stories of God at work, others can hear, and if they hear enough, or the trust us enough, they can benefit from the hearing. They can know from our share experience that faith works, and not have to struggle to trust God as much as some of us have had to as we went through our own journey. And that’s an amazing gift.

It’s also good for us, because our own brains listen to us, and each retelling, each time we talk and share our experiences, we are reminding our own brains that God is at work and we can trust him. In short, we shore up our own faith, for the next time things fall apart.

That’s neuroscience.

So there you have it. This was not the sermon from last week or the thing I intended to write, but it’s what came out. I hope it might be useful. There’s peace on the other side,
if we choose it.

Choose to see God at work. Choose to share. And life will be transformed. Our life and the lives of people we touch. That’s my experience, and I believe it’s part of the Bible’s message as well

Be well. Travel wisely.

Tom

PS; The picture was taken on one of the Rhode Island beaches. There’s nothing like the ocean to calm a soul.

Doubt

faith-and-doubt

Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version (NIV)

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Last week it was Trinty Sunday and all around the world, preachers are trying to explain the trinity, the idea that there are three distinct things, the father (God), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit, and despite their separateness, they are somehow one.

I’ve tried explaining it myself a few times on Trinity Sunday, but the truth is, that this is one of the mysteries of the faith, part of the Otherness of God, something so unlike what we can experience or imagine that we may never fully “get it”

It becomes an act of faith, bolstered by a few verses like today’s scripture where Jesus tells us to make people disciples in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.

Our scripture is a familiar one. These are last words of Christ on this earth. He has been crucified and resurrected. He has spent forty days since his resurrection coming and going out of the Disciples lives, eating with them, teaching and now he is about to ascend into heaven until the day that he comes again.

Up to this point, most of his contact after the resurrection has been in and around Jerusalem, but now, for this last moment together, they are in Galilee on an un-named mountain.

This happens often in the Book of Matthew. Jesus goes to unnamed mountains to pray or connect with God and to have time away from the crowds to be with his inner circle of friends and disciples. And on this day, he goes to the mountain as he prepares to go to heaven.

And he gives them what has become known as The Great Commission:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Today’s scripture comes from the Lectionary, a three year cycle of scripture readings that take us through the important scriptures of the entire bible. Every week, people of every denomination read the same scriptures. Preachers worldwide are today preach from the lectionary scripture, just as I did Sunday. And generally, when they encounter this scripture they are focus either on The Great Commission or the idea of the trinity

 These two things are the clear focal points of the scripture – The final command to spread God’s story and bring people into the family of Christ’s love, and the idea of the three, father, son and holy spirit are distinct and separate.

Both speak to important doctrines of the church.  Both are central commands an drivers of the church and its mission. Both are preached and taught and beaten into us until we are numb. All of which makes it hard for us preacher types who have to do a sermon on something you’ve heard before? How to make it new? How to cut through the familiarness to make an impact?

Fortunately I was spared that task, because, as I was reading and studying,  suddenly something jumped out at me that had gotten lost in past readings and studying of this verse. And that something was in verses 16-17:  “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

So the 11 remaining disciples go up on this mountain. The disciples, without Judas, and without Mathias, who was chosen to replace Judas. Just the 11 origional disciples. His dearest friends.

And they worshiped him, but some DOUBTED.

Does that surprise you as much as it surprised me? Think about all these men had been through with Jesus, his Baptism, his ministry, the healings, the miracles, The casting out of demons, the raising of Lazarus, and his own resurrection. They had seen him walk through walls after his resurrection, and walk on water before it.

They have seen all this, time and time again, for more than three years, and yet, they doubted? How in the world could this be?

Well, the bible doesn’t tell us how it can be. And it doesn’t say what they doubted. Was it Jesus? His messiah hood? Their own sanity in what they were seeing? Or was it their future? How were they going to do this, keep the great commission. What was the next act? How were they going to complete this Herculean task?  They were after all, simple people. Limited in influence. Limited in education. Not the obvious choices to change the world.

We don’t know what they doubted. Only that they did.

 And we know this: They were never chastised for their doubt. Never put down. Never told they were “bad” believers because of it.

 Think about that a minute.  This is a holy moment. And yet, they were, after all they had seen, doubting. But not chastised for that doubt. It is simply recognized.

A lot of times we think we have to be always positive, always up, always declairing how perfect God is and how we feel about him.

Go to a Christian convention, or even to many churches, or a bible study – any place where a lot of Christian’s are gathered together. Go to such a place and all you hear is how great everything is. How everyone’s faith is great. How everyone’s life is great. How perfect everyone’s Christian life is.

When we go to Bible Study or Sunday School, we are asked a question and we have what I call “The Sunday School answer” right at hand. We know the answer should be.  It’s easy to think that everyone around us in a holy setting has a crazy deep faith, with no doubt whatsoever.

But I am here to tell you, almost everyone with a real faith, has times of doubt. It comes in times of  sickness or death or loss. It comes in the face of evil, in the face of things that don’t make sense. We doubt. It is a human thing and all of us do it.

Think about this – If Christ could live with his disciples having doubt after all they had seen and all they had experienced, then maybe it’s time we admit that faith is hard, that doubt is natural.

And if it is an honest doubt, a searching doubt, it’s not all bad. It is simply human nature. When we don’t know, we begin to doubt.  And, maybe, just maybe, we should follow Christ’s approach and not condemn doubt or doubters. Make it OK to doubt and to express that doubt, and make church a safe place to say “I have a hard time with….”

Now, I have to tell you, If I were Jesus at that moment, I likely would  have thrown up my arms in frustration. I would have been angry. I would have screamed at them, “What in the holy heck do I have to do to make you confident?!!!!!”

But he doesn’t.

I can’t tell you exactly how to banish doubt.  We all have our own needs to help us move past it. But these verses give us one suggestion.  Let’s go to Verse 17 again:  “17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

They worshiped him. Even in their doubt, they worshiped. They continued to worship. They lived with a lens of belief, and in that lens, in that approach, their doubt became a searching, not a rejection. They were looking for reasons to believe instead of reasons to disbelieve.

Too often, when we doubt our faith, we leave.  We walk away. We begin to act as if whatever we doubt is false. We look for reasons for it to be false. And for other things to be true, instead of considering that maybe, just maybe, it is our knowledge and understanding that is lacking, not our God.

But when we doubt and stay; if we doubt, but stick with it. If we stay, and seek for reasons TO believe, worship and study, admitting that maybe we are lacking in understanding, we are likely to find the answers.

Why? Because they are there.

Think of it as an Easter egg hunt.

We are told that the field to our left is full of Easter eggs. So we take our basket and go looking. But when we go to the field on the left, the grass is high and we don’t immediately see Easter eggs, so you begin to doubt there are any.

That doubt leaves you have two choices. You can continue to search in the field to the left, where you will eventually find the eggs (because they are there). Or you can go to the other field, the one to the right, and search and guess what – you will never find any Easter eggs. Because they are not there. They are all right where you were told they are.

God is not afraid of our doubt.  And we in the church should not be either. He knows the answers are here (in the bible). And if we stay in the faith, stay searching, we will find them.

He knows that the things we learn through our searching through doubt are lessons that are strong and enduring. They stick with us.

Are you doubting something about your faith right now? Join the club. You can’t be in any better company of doubters than the disciples. Keep searching. Don’t run away from the answers. Read your bible. Find mentors and teachers. Ask. Be open about your doubts. Give God a chance.

That is the way to push past doubt to understanding and even stronger belief.

Be well, my friends. Travel wisely.

Tom