Saturday, June 22, 2013

Doubt and Faith

I have often encouraged people to consider their doubts and not allow those doubts to prevent them from having faith. I have had conversations with people who could not yet make a decision to follow Jesus because they still had doubts about some aspect of Christian doctrine or their experience of God. I have been transparent and shared that I too have doubts but that I have enough faith to carry me over the fences of doubt that might otherwise keep me from Jesus. I appreciate what Philip Yancey has to say about doubt.

Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point, yet something that the church does not always handle well.  I’m an advocate of doubt, because that’s why I became a Christian in the first place.  I started doubting some [of] the crazy things my church taught me when I was growing up!  (This was a most unhealthy church, I must say.)
I’m also impressed that the Bible includes so many examples of doubt.  Evidently God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches.  I want to encourage those who doubt, and also encourage the church to be a place that rewards rather than punishes honesty.”1

Yet, I also want us to consider that, it does seem that God desires that we deal with our doubts. There are passages in the Bible where we find Jesus speaking out against doubt. His words are not harsh yet he speaks with authority and challenges people to release their doubt and have faith. Here are two examples.

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31 (NIV)

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27 (NIV)

The book of James also speaks out against doubt. There we read.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (NIV)

The book of Jude seems to be more patient with those who doubt; yet I am still caught up short by the words about snatching some from the fire.

. . . keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Jude 1:21-23 (NIV)

Lately, I have been asking myself and my Lord if I have misled some by telling them not to worry about their doubts. Perhaps, in some cases, I have taken doubts too lightly. I am not sure I have the complete answer but I do have some things to share from recent experience.

Recently, I went away for two days of quiet retreat. I wanted to hear from God about some decisions I needed to make. As I went off to the retreat I was aware of the doubts that were in my mind. Could I really expect to hear from God? Would God speak to a sinner like me? Did I even know for sure that God existed? I heard a voice inside my head that said, "Why don't you leave the doubts at home for the time you are away at this retreat?" I realized that I could make a conscious decision to set aside my doubts for a time. I could choose to behave as if I did not have any doubts. At the end of the retreat I could choose to once again pick up my doubts. So I did let go of the doubts for a while. The whole time I was at the retreat centre I acted like I had absolute faith in God and not a single doubt about his love, his actions, or his existence. I have found this to be a helpful tool in my spiritual journey. The doubts are like little banners to other philosophies that I hold onto. They can be put down or taken up.

During the time I was away at the retreat I found that my faith grew significantly. God gave me impressions and ideas that helped me sort out the decisions I needed to make. God spoke to me through the Bible, through my understanding, and through the circumstances of this world. I went home and again checked what I had heard with the Bible and confirmed these words through conversations with trusted fellow travelers in the journey of faith. I found a great benefit in laying down my doubts for a time. The experience was so strong that upon returning from the retreat I found myself hesitant to take up the doubts that had been my constant companion for many years. I found myself wanting to stay in this doubt-free zone for a little while longer. That "little while longer" stretched into a little more time until I realized that it was somewhat permanent. I suspect that I will find other times in the future when I will take up some of my doubts again and that it may even be healthy for me to take up some of my doubts. As Philip Yancey reminds us, it is doubts that allow us to question unhealthy churches and question my own incorrect dogmas. Some doubt is necessary to allow us to break out of the religious blinders which keep us from seeing the true God. Perhaps I need to have special "fast days" when I fast from doubt; and special "doubt days" when I purposely choose to question all of the things I believe. Hey, I like that; I think I will put these special days on my calendar. Still, I will be certain to ensure that the "fasting from doubt days" outnumber the "doubt days." The Bible has a bias of faith over doubt and so I too will choose the same predisposition. Would you like to try this with me?

1 (Yancey 2009)

Works Cited:
Yancey, Philip. 2009. (accessed June 22, 2013).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Next Five Minutes

It is common to worry about the future; we often lament our past; the universal truth is that we must live in the present. The only moment I have is right now. What will I do with it? Emily Dickinson once said, “Forever is composed of nows.” Adam Anders wrote a song that conveys this truth; Stephen Curtis Chapman recorded it

The Next Five Minutes
(Words and music by Adam Anders; performed by Steven Curtis Chapman on the Speechless album; 1999)

I can reminisce about the already
I can worry and fret about the not yet
But when it all comes down, and
It really, really comes down to the right now,
So right now

I'm living the next five minutes
Like these are my last five minutes
Cause I know the next five minutes
May be all I have
And after the next five minutes
Turn into the last five minutes
I'm taking the next five minutes
And start it all over again

Every morning God is giving is precious
Every heartbeat, every breath I take
I'll never have them back once they've left us
There will never be another right now,
So right now

This is the day
This is the hour
This is the moment God has made

I'm living the next five minutes
Like these are my last five minutes
Cause I know the next five minutes
May be all I have
And after the next five minutes
Turn into the last five minutes
I'm taking the next five minutes
And start it all over again
I'm starting all over again
Gonna start it all over again

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Man After God's Own Heart

There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. (1 Samuel 9:1, 2 NIV)

This is the man God chose to be the first king of Israel. When Saul became arrogant (1 Samuel 15:12) and disobedient (1 Samuel 13:6-13 and 1 Samuel 15:9), God rejected him as King and chose another. The second King was David, a young, harp playing poet, and shepherd. This time, God told Samuel that height and appearance were not to be factors in the choosing of the next king: ". . . the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, . . . . The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7)

Some of us who are tall, others who are handsome, get by on appearances. We can look like a great leader. But what is going on in the heart? What does the Lord see inside each of us.

Because God used both Saul and David (two very different leaders), this passage also tells me that God can use a variety of personality and leadership types; he even uses people with whom I disagree. Just as God used both Saul and David with their various strengths and weaknesses, I need to recognize that today, God uses each person in unique ways. For example, Mark Driscoll and I are pretty far removed on our positions on the egalitarian/complementarian scale of men's and women's roles in the church. Yet, I cannot deny that God has used this man to attract many twenty-something young men to re-engage with church and the gospel. Mark Driscoll, on the other hand may need to recognize that God has used many robe-wearing Anglicans, monks, catholics, and British theologians to build God's church over the centuries. Perhaps we all need to be more gracious and ask God to show us what is in the heart of a man or woman. Psalm 25:8, 9 says, "Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way." May I be a humble learner before God. May I be a man after God's own heart.

1 Samuel 13:14 New International Version (NIV)
But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Acts 13:22 New International Version (NIV)
After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Friday, June 14, 2013

Live Long and Prosper

Here is a fun bit of Friday afternoon trivia for you. Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in Star Trek (the original series) has been asked many times how he came to develop the Vulcan salute. His answer is that it comes directly from his experiences growing up in the Jewish synagogue.1;2 The priests would bless the congregation holding out both hands in this fashion while speaking the traditional blessing passed down to them from Moses. The blessing can be found in Numbers 6:22-26 in the Bible.

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

It is the same blessing many Christian churches use as a benediction or short prayer at the conclusion of a service. You can even sense an homage back to these words in the words that generally accompany this Vulcan salute: "Live long and prosper." So the next time you give the Vulcan salute and speak those iconic words perhaps you might think of how you are offering the blessing of God to those whom you greet.

1 Leonard Nimoy: The Origin of Spock's Greeting - Greater Talent Network;
2 Wikipedia: Leonard Nimoy;

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scientist's Psalm

This "Scientist's Psalm" written by Walt Hearn appealed to my scientific mind, my poetic heart, and my theological spirit. I think Dr. Hearn is the kind of guy I would enjoy sitting down with for an afternoon of discussion about science, faith, and theology.

Scientist's Psalm
by Walt Hearn

Praise the Lord, created thing!
Let all space with praises ring!
Space itself, Hosanna sing
Unto God, Jehovah, King!


Particles in smallest cracks,
Known but by emulsion tracks:
Let all mesons praise messiah!
Songs of praise mount ever higher!

Alpha, beta, gamma rays:
Join the chorus of His praise!
Be you ultimate or not,
All created, all begot.

Parity's been overthrown?
Something He had always known.
Antimatter, fragments odd,
Quantum jumps to praise our God.


Now from unexplored domains
Up to where the atom reigns;
Forged from state once hyperdense,
Praise your maker, elements!

Atoms of increasing mass,
Nuclei from solar gas,
Orbital electrons twinning:
Praise the God who set you spinning

Rare-earth metal, halogen,
Amorphous glass or crystalline,
Solid, liquid, vapor phase:
Join in everlasting praise!


Molecules from atoms made
According to the plans He laid:
Praise the God of Angstrom units!
God of Abraham?and Kunitz!

Carbon compounds by the score,
Hundreds, thousands, millions more;
Helical configuration
Structured into God's creation

Proteins now and DNA,
Intertwining overlay;
Prototype of living cell:
Praise the God of Israel!


Viruses and protozoa:
Praise the faithful God of Noah!
Coral on the ocean shelf:
Praise the God of life itself!

Mildew, mosses, redwood trees,
Birds in air and fish in seas,
Crawling cockroach, roaring lion:
Praise Jehovah, God of Zion!

Human beings, new dimension?
Culture, science, and invention;
You who can subdue the earth:
Praise the God who gave you birth!


Earth we live on, merely one
Planet of a minor sun:
Join this entire galaxy,
Showing forth His majesty!

Beyond our own galactic rim,
Billions more are praising Him.
Ten to some gigantic power
Times the height of Babel's tower.

Past the range of telescope:
God of faith and love and hope.
Praise Him every tongue and race!
Even those in outer space!


However far space does extend
From beginning unto end,
Praise the God who does transcend!
Every knee before Him bend!

God of whom these words are penned:
Against Thee only have we sinned.
Almighty Author of creation:
Visit us with Thy salvation.1

1. God and Nature (magazine)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Personal Data

Media outlets in the last few days have revealed that Americans spy on Americans; and Americans spy on Canadians; and some are concerned that Canadians might be spying on Canadians. Hmmm, we have systems that allow our spouses or parents to track where our phone is located, programs that allow us to know who has looked at our blog-site, website, or FaceBook page. We routinely give out our personal information to websites, email lists, music services, banks, and social networking sites. We trade our email address for a chance to win a prize or for a free download of a recording of music. We know that others will contact us through that email address and so what we are really giving them is more of our time that will be used for reading or deleting the emails that will come; or for unsubscribing to email lists. Many of us give out a little more information about ourselves so that we can rank higher on search engines or so that we can have more fans on our band site or our blog. We allow our copyrighted work to be streamed for free so that others might be introduced to our work. I have both a band site and a blog - what does that say about me?

We gave up land-lines for the convenience of cell phones. Land-lines had specific rules about when it was legal and when it was illegal to "tap" the line. Now anyone with a listening device can scoop conversations out of the cell phone transmissions all around us. Prince Charles learned this the hard way and taught us all a lesson. The microphones on our cell phones can also be remotely activated without our knowledge such that they become an active listening device even when we are not on the phone. We knew all this was possible and still we chose convenience over privacy.

Suddenly, there is concern that people have access to our data. What were we thinking when we opened Pandora's Box? We wring our hands and lament the days when our data was our data. How do we stuff all the bytes back inside the box? The reality is that digital information is very easy to steal, trace, and exploit. The movie Minority Report predicted how personal information could be linked to purchasing histories to suggest the likelihood of someone making a similar purchase in the future. Is this not exactly what happens when we allow "cookies" to be placed inside the browsers on our computers? Amazon and Google readily use this information to inform ad placements and suggestions for the use of advertising dollars. The movie also showed how a citizen's life could be monitored to predict when they might contemplate or commit a crime. Might we also expect such surveillance to become a reality?

I am quite confident that we are sufficiently enamoured with technology and convenience that we will continue down this path despite the costs. As Gaby Hinsliff said in The Times, "Personal data has simply become the way we pay for things we don't want to buy with actual money."1 The media will stir up some concern for a little while but this is only a small dust-up. We will soon calm down and go back to business as usual, enjoying our credit-card chips, our "swipe and pays", and our free birthday lattes; and our governments will quietly go back to building the necessary frameworks to create an even better surveillance system (think, J.J. Abrams' Person of Interest). Ah, the convenience of it all!

1 Gaby Hinsliff, Columnist, The Times, London, June 10, 2013,

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Narcissism, Entitlement, and Gratitude

I just finished reading The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. It is a good description of our present culture backed up with plenty of sociological studies. The following quotes are examples of how Twenge and Campbell convince the reader that we need to be concerned about narcissism in North America.

Enron – the company made up of "the smartest guys in the room" that cooked its books and subsequently imploded – is a microcosm of the downfalls of narcissism. As Malcolm Gladwell argues in his essay "The Talent Myth," "Enron was the Narcissistic Corporation – a company that took more credit for success than was legitimate, that did not acknowledge responsibility for its failures, that shrewdly sold the rest of us on its genius." Gladwell argues that creating a great organization involves cultivating great teams of individuals who can work well together – not just individual superstars. This is yet another reason narcissists are often not very successful in the long run: they would rather take all the glory for themselves than share it with a team.1

The idea that girls should start looking sexy at five – or even earlier – has entered the mainstream. It needs to exit. You can now buy high heels for newborn babies.2

In business, entitlement often boils down to an equation: less work for more pay. Plenty of workers today want that, but they also want more flexibility, balance, meaning, and praise for their work. . . . That would be fine if they were willing to work for it. However, the number of Americans who embrace the idea of working hard has steadily declined. One study found that fewer employees in 1999 (vs. 1974) agreed that "A worker should feel a sense of pride in his work" or that working hard made them "feel more worthwhile and [like] a better person." The 1999 employees were also less likely to agree that "A worker should do a decent job whether or not his supervisor is around."3

They present much more evidence to suggest that we are living in a world of excessive narcissism and entitlement. Fortunately, the last section of the book is devoted to prognosis and treatment. They suggest that

One of the best ways to combat entitlement is to be grateful for what you already have. In one fascinating study, people were asked to list all the things they were grateful for once a week for ten weeks. Compared to a group of people who did not do this task, those who thought about everything they were thankful for reported a greater sense of well-being, enjoyed better health, and exercised more. They were also more emotionally supportive to others. Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement: you think about what you already have, instead of what you deserve to have but don't.4

The book makes a great pitch for something that the Bible (Colossians 3:15, 4:2, and Hebrews 12:28), our parents, and common sense have told us before, live a thankful life and you will be happier and better liked. Why wait for Thanksgiving? Perhaps we could all start right now to list the things for which we are grateful. How different might your life be if you set out to list all the things for which you were grateful once a week for ten weeks or more?

The authors of the book point out that part of the remedy for narcissism is humility. I might also add that a remedy for narcissism is to humbly recognize that we are all broken and in need of being fixed. None of us can claim to have it all together. We know too well the dark corners of our lives which need improvement.

Charlie Peacock's song "In The Light" (most famously recorded by DC Talk) is a reminder of my own brokenness, my need for others, and in particular, my need for a saviour.

"In The Light"
(Music and Lyrics by Charlie Peacock)

I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I've got one for every selfish thing I do

What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

The disease of self runs through my blood
It's a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

Tell me, what's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

Honesty becomes me
(There's nothing left to lose)
The secrets that did run me
(In Your presence are defused)
Pride has no position
(And riches have no worth)
The fame that once did cover me
(Has been sentenced to this Earth)
Has been sentenced to this Earth

Tell me, what's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light.

1 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 45)
2 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 158)
3 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 235, 236)
4 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 241)

Works Cited:
Twenge, Jean M, and W. Keith Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York: Free Press, A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc, 2010.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

As To The Lord

The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman [cleaning lady], become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly "as to the Lord." This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory. New York: Harperone, 2001, p. 55.