Posted tagged ‘Doubt’

The “Uh” Moments

July 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 18, 2016

                                         

My life has been littered with moments of extreme stupidity. Like when I tried to compliment one young lady I was attending college with. Never make comments about a young lady’s figure on the first date…or second date for that matter. I said something that gave her the impression that she was flat-chested and big in the hips. My intent was to tell her that she was slim in the waist-line and nicely-proportioned in the bust-line!

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

It was one of those moments when the incensed look on her face made me go “Uh!” The date ended quickly after that. In case you’re wondering…and are really slow in perceiving things…there was not a second date!

“Uh moments” are those times when we realize how error-prone, insensitive, or clueless we really are.

I’ve had a lot of those “Uh moments” with God. Times when I doubted his majesty, occasions where I’ve missed his hand in the midst of events, trials when I’ve wandered on my own.

I was thinking about that the other day as I was reading some scripture stories. Scripture is populated with “Uh moments.” For example, Moses stood before God with his excuses about not being qualified to go and speak to Pharaoh. Although “Uh…” is not a word that the stammering Moses uses, it can be easily lip-synched into his mental verbiage at the end of the discussion.

Martha had an “Uh moment” with Jesus when she moaned and groaned to Jesus about her brother.

“Master!” she said, “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died!”

Knowing Martha’s opinionated personality, I don’t think those words were said to Jesus with a soft understanding voice. Jesus tells her that he is the resurrection and the life, and that the one who believes in him will live even though he dies.” Martha gives kind of a half-hearted “okay…” to him. They proceed to the tomb of her brother and Jesus tells those around it to remove the stone.

Martha’s housecleaning experience has her then say to Jesus, “By this time there’s a stench! He’s been dead four days!” Like an obnoxious adolescent wanting her parents to get a life, it’s like Martha is saying to Jesus “HHHeellllloooo!” And Jesus looked her in the eye and says, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And Martha said, “Uhhh…”

Our “Uh moments” come when our doubts are completely doused by a shower of God’s power, like the 450 prophets of Baal being completely embarrassed by the prophet Elijah. Our “Uh moments” also come when we experience a tapestry of God’s artistic touch. This week I’m at a church camp outside of Woodland Park, Colorado. I’m overwhelmed by the view of Pike’s Peak and surrounding forests and peacefulness. I stand on the deck each day and literally say “Uhhh…”

“Uh moments” remind us of our humanity and mortality, and they also nudge us with the assurance of the love of God.

God loves me no matter what, no matter my capacity to doubt him and no matter whether I say the wrong words to the wrong person at the wrong time. He loves me despite myself!

And to that my lower jaw drops open and I resemble Jim Carey in the movie Dumb and Dumber with the one syllable grunt…”Uhhh…”

Jesus Coffee

July 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 10, 2016

                                          

We hadn’t connected for a while. I started with the excuses. “I’m sorry, Jesus, that we haven’t gotten together for a while. It’s just been so hectic and busy.” Busyness is always a good “go to” when you haven’t done something or neglected a certain person.

He smiled at me and invited me to sit down in the booth across from him. “How’ve you been?” I asked.

“Oh, you know…the usual…feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, raising the dead…same-o same-o.” We both chuckled a bit. “What’s been taking up so much of your time?”

I stammered through a list of poor excuses for busyness and then I confessed, “I really have no excuses for why I haven’t talked to you for a while. Perhaps what is really going on is that there’s some things in my life, and in the lives of some friends of mine, that are unsettling. A lot of it is my own poor choices, and some of it is…I don’t know…I guess I could call it a kind of cynicism towards life and some people.”

“So you thought if you talked to me you’d have to face up to what’s going on?”

“Pretty much! I’ve very proficient in the gift of avoidance.”

“So tell me why you suggested we get together again?”

“I’m not sure if it was my old Baptist guilt rising up, or realizing that I just needed this…to sit and talk with you. Maybe it’s a combination of a lot of different things…anyway I’m here and I’m glad we can talk over a cup of coffee.”

“I hope you know that I’m always free to chat.”

“I know, I know. I’ve never doubted that, even though lately it seems that I’ve had a tendency to turn away from it.”

“Cynicism tends to make us unsure of just about everything.”

“And I admit I’ve doubted just about anyone and everyone. I’ve doubted the truth of everything…especially, everything they’ve been talking about in church. I’m not sure what to believe anymore.”

“Do you believe in me?”

“You know I do, Jesus.”

“That’s a pretty good start, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but!” I didn’t know what to say after the but. I left it hanging in the air like a bad smell. Jesus looked at me with his penetrating eyes that could see what was in my heart and troubling my mind.

“Excuse me for making an analogy, but you’ve lost sight of the sun because of all the smoke. In other words, you’ve lost sight of me because there is so much of life’s chaos and fallenness that is clouding your vision.”

“Yes! All those things you teach and talk about…love, grace, forgiveness, surrender, faith, being salt and light…we talk about them a lot, a whole lot…but It seems like what I see emerging so often out of my life and the lives of others are things like hate, indifference, bitterness, a lack of forgiveness, trying to be in control, and selfish ambition.”

“You’re right!”

“Jesus, I don’t want to be right! I want to be changed and to see change.”

“And what are you willing to give up for that to happen?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you not see that the out-of-control condition that you’re describing is because there are certain things that you’re allowing to be?”

“I would be lying if I said I can see it, and yet, in my spirit I know the truth of it.”

“Your cynicism is a symptom of the battle that is going on inside you. You want to believe, but believing is risking, and then what if you’re wrong? What if you love unconditionally and then you feel things are as screwed up as they always are? What if loving one another ends up just being a bad joke? What if you surrender and then you discover it’s all just a crock of crap?”

“I hope not!”

“But you see, Bill, your cynicism in many ways is a safe place to be.”

(TO BE CONTINUED)

The Finger Grasp

January 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 16, 2016

                                        

He reached down with the offering plate in one hand. I placed my tithe envelope with it, and he grasped one of my fingers with two of his own and gave me a squeeze.

I looked at his wrinkled smiling face, dotted with the blemishes and signs of aging, and smiled back. I stood up and we hugged, and he whispered in my ear, “Praying for you!”

“Thank you, Rex!”

The two of us had been through some journeys together. His only son had died in a motorcycle accident a few years go. The pain of losing a child had worn on him. Sometimes we have no compass to help us navigate the storms of life. Losing his son was a time of wandering for him as he wrestled with the question of “why?” A person of faith is not immune to periods of doubt and confusion. Each day was an unsteady step in an uncertain direction.

His questions about heaven began. What was it like? Does a person go directly to heaven after he dies? How can a person be assured that he will receive everlasting life? Will his son recognize him, and will he recognize his son?

He had known Jesus for a long, long time. The questions weren’t those of a new follower, or someone who was thinking of following Jesus. The questions were searchings to bring hope to the wounds of his soul.

He was more concerned about his children, grandchildren, and their spouses. Would he see them someday in glory?

And then the cancer surfaced!

When you’re ninety-five you expect to have ailments. They could with the addition of each decade. A splotch here on his forehead from a clumsy tumble; a darkened area on his arm resulting from multiple attempts to draw blood…old age reminders that youth has long since disappeared from view. The weight loss, however, had been the most concerning thing. The cancer treatments and drugs have taken so much of his energy, his will to live.

And so he grasps my finger to tell me of his support, of his love, and of his appreciation for our journey together.

I want to call time-out and tell him to sit for a while, but some of the congregants have meals cooking in crockpots at home, while others simply want to beat the Methodists to the restaurants.

He holds my finger for just a moment more before releasing and giving me a wink with his left eye, and then he strolls back down the cenetr aisle of the sanctuary.

I’m hoping that he is still awake when I recognize, and talk about him in the midst of my last Sunday sermon as his pastor. The weariness that he shows each day makes that unlikely…but I love him enough to awake him, walk back to where he is sitting, and give his finger a final grasp!

Hope

November 30, 2015

 

“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’” (Luke 1:18)

It is much easier to doubt than it is to hope. Doubt takes little effort. It comes like the incoming tide of an ocean shore…wave after wave inching its way up the sand…changing the configuration of our thoughts. Hope takes invested commitment.

Doubt pushes its way into our visions of the future. What will God do during this time? Doubt detours around God and muddies our journey. What new directions will God take us in? Doubt stubbornly roots itself in the stiffness of the present. What better things does God have for us as we journey through our life with him? Doubt sees no good, no possible renewal.

When we allow hope to rise we step into the certainty of God’s promise. We step out of our Zechariah moment and into the delight of Elizabeth’s new hope.

Some folk in our churches have to be nurtured out of doubt. There may need to be some people who walk alongside them and usher them towards hope. “Zechariahs” take a little longer to arrive at hope. Sometimes it takes a little more persuasion…a tied tongue for a while…for someone to discover the assuredness of God’s promise.

Let hope arise! Let hope arise! Let us be able to see the hope and excitement of Elizabeth’s words: “The Lord has done this for me!” (Luke 1:25a)

Conversing With the Cable Guy

October 16, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 16, 2013

 

                          

                             

He pulled up in a pick-up that looked like it had been through a few battles. I welcomed him into the house and showed him where the main TV was located. He had lazy eyes, kind of like the Robert Barone character on Everybody Loves Raymond, and a slightly covered tattoo on his right upper arm.

We conversed for a little bit and then I left the room to put the laundry in the washing machine. When I came back we started talking again and he asked me what my occupation was.

“I pastor a church.”

“Oh, really! Which one?”

“Highland Park Baptist Church, corner of Maizeland and Circle.”

“I was baptized when I was a baby back in Boston.” I assumed it was a Catholic church, but from the tone of his voice I don’t think he really knew. “I’ve probably only been in a church four times in my life. Once for my grandfather’s funeral, and a wedding, and once I went with a friend of mine to his church in Denver some place.”

“How was that?”

“I don’t really remember. He invited me to go with him so I did. That’s it!”

I searched for something to say, but nothing rose to the surface. Sometimes the work of the Holy Spirit is to keep us from having a nice quick response.

“I don’t know about God…or a higher power…or whatever you might call him. I don’t really buy into it. I’ve got too many questions that don’t seem to have answers. Like…why would God allow catastrophes to happen? Or why are there so many different kinds of churches? Why not just one church? Why does one person believe one thing and another person believes something completely different?”

“Those are all good questions.”

“I’ve never really read the Bible. Not really my thing.”

“It’s got some good things to say.”

“Probably. I believe that we’re here, but I’m not sure we have a purpose. What if we’re just one of many planets in the universe that are inhabited? What does that say about us?”

“I’m not sure.”

“So…you’re like the priest?”

“Something like that.”

“That’s cool! Do you…like, have mass on a certain day?”

“Yes, on Sundays, but we’ve got other things that go on during the week. Monday is my day off.”

“So…where did God come from?”

How do I answer that?

“I guess you could say that God didn’t come from anywhere or anyone, because he is God. He’s always been and will be.”

“I guess that’s hard for me to understand. I need scientific evidence. It just seems too vague, too foggy.”

“I guess some things just require faith. I’ll always have doubts, but I trust that God knows what he is doing and plans to do.”

“My doubt trumps my faith.”

“There’s a verse in the Bible where the followers of Jesus met him AFTER he had been resurrected from the dead and it says “they worshiped him, but some doubted.” 

For me, that tells me that doubt is part of the faith journey.”

“I hear what you’re saying, but I’m just not there. And, quite honestly, I have my doubts over a story about someone being brought back from the dead. Sounds too much like a Hollywood hero-movie ending.”

We talked for a while more. It was thought-provoking and challenging. Here was someone who had experienced a lot of uncertainty in his life, but a journey with Jesus was just a little bit too much of a reach for him. It made me think about the challenges of communicating Truth to a generation that does not know the Bible, or value the Bible. It echoed in my spirit about the hesitancy of faith. Doubt is the easier road to take.

Perhaps my willingness to talk brought a little light to the situation for him. I didn’t try to convince him that he was wrong and I was right, but I listened and responded as best I could.

Sometimes questions don’t need to be answered. They just need to be heard. That day our new cable got installed and God had me listen.

Amen! Yes…But!

August 13, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    August 12, 2012

 

I recently read Eugene Person’s memoirs entitled The Pastor. In the midst of it he tells a story about his daughter asking what “amen” meant. The family said it at the end of the dinner grace, so her curiosity could not contain her “amen compliance.” Her pastor father told her it was like saying “Yes” at the end of what had been said in the prayer. Naturally her next question was why they didn’t just say yes? That started a new tradition in the Peterson household, and somewhat in their church family. At the end of the prayer they began punctuating the end by saying “Amen! Yes!”

At a basketball officiating camp I attend each year the camp director begins each camp with introductions and procedures. At almost every camp he tells a room full of aspiring whistle-blowers to receive the instruction from the camp clinicians, and to take the criticisms and suggestions for what they are worth.

And then he says, “What we don’t want is ‘Yes, buts!’”

His point is that we are there to get better, not to question the evaluations and tips of the people who are there to help us. Every camp, however, there is at least one knucklehead who wants to argue.

Yes…but!”

Many of us live spiritual journeys that are littered with “Yes…buts!” They come in different forms. Sometimes they come after we have heard of a promise of God from his Word. We hear the promise, we hear the hope, the proclamation, and we say “Amen! Yes…but…”

The “but” is seldom uttered after the amen, but it thunders from our life. I see many a believer who says he believes in grace, yet lives under the law. That’s a “yes…but” story in the making!

There are also those who identify themselves as Christians, but treat parts of the Christian walk as either antiquated or no longer relevant. Perhaps they see themselves as progressive believers forging a new path. Call it what you will, the smell of the “yes…but” is close at hand. (Maybe I shouldn’t have used the term “the smell of the yes but.”)

I recognize I use the same words in my life. Guilty as charged! Many weeks I hear the Spirit speaking encouragement to me. I sense the whisper of hope as I take another step in my journey as a pastor, a shepherd. And I am prone to inject a few “Amen! Yes…buts” into my response.

We practiced this morning in the midst of the flock. We echoed “Amen! Yes!” at the end of each prayer, and scripture reading. We withstood the temptation to add the “but.” We practiced hope and proclamation in prep time for a week that will surely challenge most of us.

We’re journeying towards a place, a point where we will wholeheartedly shout “Amen! Yes…Yes…Yes!”

Doubting Worship

August 8, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        July 31, 2012

 

I find myself reading The Message paraphrase of the Bible more and more. I’m amazed at how a passage that I’ve read over and over again will suddenly take on a new meaning when I read it in The Message. One of the passages that hit me recently was Matthew 28:16-17. Here’s how it reads:

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.”  (Matthew 28:16-17)

Of course, the next verse is the Great Commissioning of Jesus of the disciples.

…not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.”

If the disciples, who experienced the risen Lord, weren’t sure about totally risking their lives, it seems that I don’t have to have all the “t’s” crossed and “i’s” dotted before I proceed in my faith journey.    I have been freed from having to have all the answers. I’ve been freed from having to do all the work myself. I’ve even been freed from having to be completely sold out to the Lord…body, soul, and mind!

Many may argue that point. It is either all in or all out. It seems, however, that we ridicule the doubts  of many to the point that they submit to the Lord out of guilt. I recognize that there are pivotal decision points where we choose to acknowledge Jesus as Lord or deny we ever knew him. As time proceeds on there may be more than a few of us who will face a life or death choice that is connected to that proclamation or denial.

While we are between the “here” (our commitment to being one of his followers) and the “there”   (that point of standing with him or standing against him) however, there is a lot of…uncertainty. There is a tremendous amount of wavering.

It’s interesting to me that the doubting followers of Jesus in these verses are never identified. We might guess that one was Thomas, but Thomas’s doubt displayed in the Gospel of John was tied to his not being present when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples.

Some doubted…but they were all his disciples.

Jesus knew of the sense of reluctance of his closest followers, and yet he gave them the commission. Wait a minute! Jesus knew that there wasn’t total buy-in and yet he still imparted…delegated…the greatest commission that the church has ever been given ownership to!

If it was anyone else we might be inclined to say “What was he thinking?”

The Great Commissioning after the half-hearted willingness to risk may be an indication of the grace of God evidenced. It’s is somewhat comforting to know that Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to sign a contract before he gave them the commission. He didn’t ask for a franchise fee. He gave them a command…these followers who were all at different places on their journeys.

The longer I’m in the ministry as a pastor of a flock the more it seems that the journey of faith is more about the questions, the apprehensions, the fears, and the doubts, and less about the answers.

Strange, but that is peacefully unsettling!