Uncertainty and Hypocrisy

photoWe can be okay with uncertainty but not hypocrisy.

When we’re not okay with uncertainty, we invite hypocrisy. When we’re not okay with uncertainty, we claim something just to seem or feel certain. We think a firm stand is better than no stand at all. But we can easily find ourselves on anything by firm ground. Just because we take a firm stand doesn’t mean where we stand is firm. We claim what isn’t true or right or correct, and we find others see us as hypocritical.

Perhaps what’s more important is that we begin to see the hypocrisy within ourselves.

Just because we’re confident in one thing doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers in everything. Just because we stand on a firm foundation at one time because we’re certain of a core truth doesn’t mean we can claim firm truth under our feet no matter where we step and what topics we cover.

Humility is essential to being a lifelong learner, and if we’re not willing to learn and change throughout our lives, not only do we lose, but so do others around us.

What Is Faith?

What is faith?

It’s not an easy question to answer despite the billion-plus results listed with a quick Google check. Even a variety of “expert” dictionaries find difficulty in agreeing:

  • Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  • Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
  • Allegiance to duty or a person; loyalty.
  • Fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions.
  • Belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion.
  • Firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.
  • Something that is believed especially with strong conviction.
  • Confidence or trust in a person or thing; faith in another’s ability.
  • Belief that is not based on proof.
  • Belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion.
  • Belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.
  • A system of religious belief.

Of course, there are themes through the definitions, but as I peruse the Google results, quotes, definitions, and blog posts, I realize people generally define faith in whatever way best suits them. Like so many other aspects of our lives, we begin with what we know and what we want, and we build assumptions based on our preferences and comfort zones. We then project the meaning we assume from our own experiences to the greater world.

We cannot define God and everything related to Him by our own definitions. Only He fully and clearly defines Himself. He created us in His image, so we have His imprint upon us; however, we don’t have all the pieces. Our understanding is limited. We’re not going to help our limited understanding by starting with ourselves and projecting what we believe on God or everyone else. When we start with what God gives us, our experiences take on a new role. They’re intended to enhance what God reveals to us. He defines truth. He defines faith. We respond by living in truth by faith.

Consider how you define faith.

What would you like to clarify with God about faith?

Pay attention to the types of questions and issues you face. What might you need to yield to God in the process of expanding your personal definition of faith into God’s reality of faith?

Be prepared to see God’s faithfulness.

There will be many who read this and slam my premise from the very start. After all, who am I to say faith can only be accurately defined by God? Who am I to say God even exists? Some will assume I’m being judgmental and intolerant. To engage in that conversation addressing such accusations, I’d have to know the accuser’s definition of judgmental and intolerant. I’ll admit that under some definitions, indeed, I am being judgmental and intolerant. I’m clinging to God’s character—at least, as well as I can humbly grasp the reality of who He is and who He created me to be. As such, I can soundly declare that God is judgmental and intolerant. Of course, He is also loving, merciful, and patient. All these qualities, and more, come together in the character of who God is. Because I’m created in His image, I am supposed to reflect the totality of His character. His love involves judgment, and I trust Him to help me discern how to approach each situation. He refuses to tolerate some behavior, yet He is merciful. Again, I seek and trust His discernment in order to know when to say what and when to be silent. It’s not easy.

So, what is faith? Begin and stick with what God says about faith. Regardless of where you are on your faith journey, whether you think it has anything at all to do with God, I hope you’ll take the next steps with me. Open your mind and heart. You might be surprised at what comes next.

Consider Hebrews 11:1.

Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.

What a great definition of faith! It’s certainly not a simple definition; it includes several aspects.

  • Certainty
  • Hope
  • Things
  • Knowledge
  • Reality
  • Sight

Which of the six aspects of the definition of faith do you consistently emphasize the most?

Which of the six aspects of the definition do you downplay, neglect, or question the most?

What do you feel is your biggest stumbling block to developing a pure faith in this season of your life?

Explore faith further with Pure Faith: A Study of What Faith Is and How to Live It Out Loud.

The Little Tree That Could

treeMy daughter brought home one of those scrawny tree saplings from elementary school. We planted it, as we did the others that came home in previous years. None of the others had survived, so we didn’t worry too much about where we planted it.

But it began to grow.

And grow.

And grow.

We now sit in its shade on warm evenings. Our dog loves the soft bed of its needles.

I often think of it as the “little tree that could,” referring to that famous fictional train that makes it up and over the mountain to save the day and deliver toys to the children. But that’s not really the case.

The tree didn’t grow just because it decided to grow. A lot more went into it: provisions and timing of sunlight, soil, water, pruning, and so on. The growth process wasn’t without trial. It had to overcome some rough winters and dry, hot summers, not to mention bugs and other pests.

We sometimes try to convince ourselves (and teach others) that if we belief enough, what we want to happen will actually happen…that all we need is enough confidence and hard work. But that’s just not true. A lot more goes into our growth than that. Of course, we have to be willing to try our hardest and do our best. But believing in ourselves isn’t going to deliver all the results we want. Life isn’t a mathematical equation. Even if it was, we wouldn’t be able to plug in all the numbers we need, because we aren’t actually aware of all the factors involved.

A lot goes on behind the scenes–even within us–that we don’t know or understand.

We can trust that God does know. He does care (yes, even when life is tough and we wonder if we’re all alone). He does provide (even if it’s not exactly what we want). He does prune us (because He knows the long term benefits are more important than the short term pain, awkwardness, or inconvenience).

It’s not that I don’t believe in myself. I believe God more.

It’s not that I’m not willing to work hard. I simply want to work purposefully as I pursue God’s instructions.

It’s not that I don’t think I can. It’s that I know God can.

Help! … Oh, I Got This.

will-you-help-meI needed to drive in some heavy snow, and I wasn’t excited about it. Looking online at the road conditions, I was concerned. Was it worth the risk?

I decided I could always turn back. I’d take it slow. I prayed a lot and asked for God’s help. He gave me peace.

Peace doesn’t take away all the risks and concerns. It doesn’t assure things will turn out the way I want or expect. It simply provides a firm foundation to accept the process and outcome. It’s trust that God is bigger, more powerful, wiser.

As I drove through the snow, I soon realized the roads weren’t as bad as I thought. I still had to be careful. But my thoughts began to shift. My full reliance and trust in God through my prayers subsided, ebbed out by my thoughts of “This isn’t so bad. I’m doing fine. I’ve got this.”

How often do we cry out to God to help, then pat ourselves on the back when the stress eases and we can see a positive outcome? How often do we encourage others to do the same as we affirm them for the way they handled something?

The only confidence we can truly rely on is God-confidence. Self-confidence might seem solid, but it will crumble. We can’t rely on ourselves, no matter what the world tells us. We’re not the same today as we were yesterday. Our lives are like shifting sand. Only God is unchanging. Only He is completely trustworthy. Only He has the power, wisdom, and perspective to guide best. Sure, we might choose well at times, but “best”? That’s reserved for God.

You can ask Him for help. You can trust Him to give it…in His timing and His way.

What Do We Do With What People Say?

Can you believe she said that?

How dare he say that to me!

She didn’t have to say it; I know what she meant.

screen doorEvery time we communicate with someone, there’s a lot of processing, and a lot of opportunity for misunderstanding, assumption, and frustration. It’s as if we each carry around a screen door right in front of us. None of us have completely clean screen doors. Our experiences, preferences, and assumptions clog some of the holes. When we stand face-to-face with someone, we speak, and our words have to go through our screen door, which means not everything makes it through. Then, our words have to go through the other person’s screen, which is also not pristine. They speak back to us, and their words have to go through both screens, too. Add in the nonverbal communication we’re sending every moment, and the opportunities for disaster exponentially escalate.

We can’t hear what people say to us with a undeniable purity. Many times, our reaction isn’t just about what they say but how they say it, or even, what they intend by it. We certainly seem to be confident in our ability to know a lot of things about another person’s communication.

Are we as vigilant, discerning, and confident in the way we respond?

It’s not so much about what people say as what we do with what they say. After all, we have absolutely no control over what someone says or how she says it. We choose how to respond. Many times, we waste that choice, because we aren’t intentional about our respond. We give a knee-jerk response, either to the person’s face or behind her back, either right away or after we’ve fumed or pouted about it for awhile. Instead, we can use that same time to take a deep breath and ask God how He wants us to respond. What would honor and reflect Him to other people? What would draw us closer to Him as we trust Him, even in situations and relationships we don’t understand?

We don’t have to take offense. We don’t have to get angry. We don’t have to retaliate. We don’t have to coddle. We don’t have to enable. But we do have to take responsibility…for our response, whether it’s our attitude, words, or actions.

What are you doing with what people say?

Are you listening to what God says above all other words?

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.(James 1:19-20)

The Doubt and Confidence of Your Calling

Today’s guest post is from my friend Gloria Lee. Enjoy!

393290_10150363917819007_140620465_n“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-12

I turned 41 this year. I have never been married. I don’t have children. However, God called me to be a children’s pastor.

When I first started out as a children’s ministry intern 20 years ago, I was intimidated by parents. They were all older than me. I was just getting my hands wet in ministry. I knew I had a lot to learn.

I went to seminary and received my masters in Christian education. I spent three years studying how I can better minister to children and families. I still felt intimidated by parents. They were still older than me with more life experience. I was young and timid. I knew I needed to build confidence, but I thought it would just come with age, life experience, marriage, and kids.

Approximately 10 years into ministry, I was convicted that my role as the children’s director included starting conversations with parents about being the primary faith leaders for their kids. I also knew my role wasn’t just about teaching the kids but it was ministering to the families, including matters pertaining to parenting. I started sharing with the parents separation anxiety tips when they drop off young children, resources to help parents lead their kids in their faith, and other information I had read in books and articles.

One Sunday, a group of parents started attacking me verbally. They told me that my job was teaching children, and I had no business telling parents what to do. I was completely taken aback by their comments. They continued to tell me that everything I had to say showed my lack of experience as a parent, and I wouldn’t be telling them these things had I been a parent. I was in a state of shock because I was only sharing with them what I had learned working in public and private schools for years, from reading many books and articles, and from classes I had taken in school. Confused, hurt, and shocked, I went home that night and cried myself to sleep convinced there is no way I could be called into children’s ministry as a single woman without children.

I was ready to throw in the towel. Things got worse, and I didn’t want to disturb my senior pastor with church matters during his sabbatical. I had weathered through some tough ministry times before… I had been attacked for being a female leader in the church, I’ve had to carry the children’s ministry through months of ugly leadership division that resulted in a church split, and I even had a pastor threaten to “blacklist” me if I didn’t do as I was told (his demands had more to do with my personal life than ministry such as not being allowed to have a roommate because parishioners shouldn’t see how pastors live outside the church—yes, ridiculous I know!). But this time, my confidence was completely shaken… and I was convinced I had completely misunderstood God’s calling and entering ministry was a big mistake. I must have misheard His calling.

I wrote my letter of resignation and got up the courage to call my senior pastor on his sabbatical. During our meeting, he looked at me directly in the eye and said “My wife and I trust you with my own children. You have played a big part in my kids coming to know Christ. I call you when I need parenting advice. I believe with all my heart that God has called you to minister to children and families. I want to affirm you of your calling. I have no doubt in my mind I hired the right person for the job.” Tears kept streaming down my face, but I wasn’t convinced. A couple weeks later, my pastor affirmed my calling from the pulpit. The group of parents that had attacked me left the church silently.

But the story doesn’t end here. That experience alone left a huge hole in my confidence. I found myself apologizing for not being a parent when I talked to parents. I found myself quoting authors and speakers, but not speaking from my own knowledge or experience. One day, a missionary I respect said, “How are your kids?” I answered back, “I don’t have any kids.” She said, “Of course you do. You have hundreds of them. You care for each one’s spiritual health, sometimes more than their biological parents. Your interaction and experience with hundreds of kids make you more experienced than most parents.” Her words were medicine to my soul, and I started my road to healing and regaining confidence in God’s calling for my life.

Since then, I have worked hard at connecting with other children’s pastors who have excelled despite not having their own kids. I have worked hard at being confident in my role. I have worked hard at leading and encouraging with God’s authority rather than apologizing for my status. I have worked hard at honing my knowledge and skills.

Earlier this year, I was at a gathering of children’s ministers in my area. During introductions, I caught several newbies saying “I don’t have any children of my own so I’m not sure if what I’m doing is correct.” I felt the strong urge to empower them and tell them to embrace God’s calling and be confident in their roles.

Today, I know with confidence that God has called me to minister to children and families. I have 20 years of experience in children’s ministry, and I have had the privilege of ministering to hundreds of children and parents. I am confident of what I know, and I continue to learn more. I don’t pretend to know and feel as parents do. But I know that God has given me the gifts and authority to equip, encourage, and support families.

I turned 41 this year. I have never been married. I don’t have children, AND God called me to be a children’s pastor. What is God’s calling for your life? How have YOU found confidence in His calling for your life?

gloriaConnect with Gloria on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Fit Faith: “Coach Bus-Driver”

I had what seemed to be a long recovery when my hip was damaged while running in junior high. I had to watch others run most of the season while I hobbled around on crutches and then limped around on my own. I went to most of the meets to support my teammates. I followed the doctor’s orders, so I could get back to running as soon as possible. (Well, I didn’t stretch as much as I should have, but I was in junior high and didn’t see the potential long-term benefits.)

I was able to start running a little before the end of the season. The problem was I wasn’t going to be able to push my body enough to be competitive in the short sprints, which were my specialty. I didn’t have enough time to retrain my body to run much distance. Nor did I want to become a distance runner. At the time, it just seemed boring to me. The only option seemed to be the 400-meter dash. Of course, in junior high, I’m not sure “dash” is the correct word for it, but it was definitely as close to a full out sprint I was going to get without pushing my body beyond its limits.

The problem was I didn’t know if I wanted to try, probably because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it.

I wasn’t familiar with the strategy of the length of a race. I didn’t know if I had the endurance, especially since my training time was limited. I only had a couple weeks before Regionals, which would be my last chance to run that season. Our team didn’t have any strong 400-meter runners, so if I wanted to run it, I could. The coach was occupied with preparing all the stars for upcoming meets, so I didn’t have much opportunity to learn what to do.

Mr. Brooks had driven the bus to most of our track meets. He’d seen me stand on the side of the track to cheer on others. He knew I was itching to run, and he asked me one day when I was planning to get on the track again. I explained my options, and he said without hesitation, “Well, of course you can run the 440!” He gave me a few tips and words of encouragement. When he looked me in the eye, I believed what he was saying. Perhaps it was possible.

During every meet between then and Regionals, I didn’t stand beside the track cheering. Mr. Brooks had me training. He told me what to do on days between meets and even came to a couple after school practices to check in with me. I began to believe I could not only run the 440 but that I could run it well. I told my coach I’d run it. I was excited but nervous. I was fast before getting hurt. I was used to doing really well. I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

It would have been easier to back out, but Mr. Brooks had poured too much time and confidence in me. Every time he looked into my eyes and spoke words of encouragement, I knew I would run that race. When we got to the regional meet, I remember him standing with me beside the track and pointing to the various points around the track where he wanted me to pay attention to certain things about my running and breathing. He reminded me how to hold my shoulders and what to expect from other runners. He told me to run my own race. He told me I could do it. He told me he believed I could do it.

I remembered everything he told me while I was running. His voice rang through my head, and I could hear him yelling every step of the race. I pushed through the finish line, my first race since being hurt, and I won. I won my heat, and I qualified for Sectionals. I was ecstatic, but I think Mr. Brooks was even more thrilled.

I don’t remember my track coach giving me any advice about the race. I don’t remember my track coach’s response. But I clearly remember Mr. Brooks and how critical he was to the process. Sometimes the most important coaches in life won’t be the people in actual coaching positions.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. (Hebrews 12:1)

Who has coached you to run the faith race well? Whose faith journey are you coaching? Be strategic. God believes in you and wants you to finish well.