- 1 Hope
- 1.1 Under the Stars (June 24, 2010)
- 1.2 A Power Trip (August 8, 2010)
- 1.3 Something is Missing (October 6, 2010)
- 1.4 Defining Purpose (November 16, 2010)
- 1.5 Two Realities (January 7, 2011)
- 1.6 A Bigger Picture (April 7, 2011)
- 1.7 Irrelevant Faith (April 12, 2011)
- 1.8 Passionless Easter (April 24, 2011)
- 1.9 Experiencing Beauty (April 25, 2011)
- 1.10 The Oxford Promise (April 2011)
- 1.11 The Logic of Doubt (September 4, 2011)
- 1.12 Faith (October 17, 2011)
- 1.13 Buy a Real Book!
- 1.14 Continue Reading…
As with many good stories, the next chapter of this one begins at summer camp!
I had never been to camp, so I decided to spend my last summer between college semesters working as a camp counselor. This was one of the first decisions I made to live life in a certain way because I wanted to, not necessarily because it was smart.
Because of my recent awakening to the love of God, I had no idea how to be a camp counselor at a Christian camp. Even though I had faith, it was difficult for me to systematically explain something I did not understand. However, I discovered a truth that would carry me through the experience.
Under the Stars (June 24, 2010)
When God first called me out here for the summer, I knew it was to meet Him, but I didn’t expect it to be such hard work. At the end of spring semester, I had a dream where I walked down a dirt pathway lined with tall grass on either side. My destination was a fallen tree trunk beside a flowing river. In this dream I sat beneath the stars and simply enjoyed knowing God. I knew it was the only thing I wanted to do forever.
Last night, I found this place and knew exactly why God sent me out here to River Valley Ranch in Maryland. I am here to meet with Him. As I sit and wait for Him to work on my life – sometimes impatiently – I am learning to trust that He is the one who will complete His story in my life (Philippians 1:6). The faith that I placed in God for eternal life is the same faith by which I will live the rest of my life. My job is to Be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
Learning to walk by faith instead of by what I could understand began underneath the blanket of stars that rested between the Maryland mountains of River Valley Ranch. Walking through the dark fields and sitting beside the river while the bullfrogs sang, I realized that if I could trust God to make things right between us, I could be content with not understanding how His process worked.
I finally gave up trying to figure out all the answers and simply began to worship. I knew everything was going to be ok. As I continued the season of ‘unknowingness’ that began with my decision to trust Jesus to save me, I began to see the world I had previously known in a different light
A Power Trip (August 8, 2010)
Yesterday in Washington D.C., I finally saw the most recent seat of world power and was confused. I have seen Rome, Paris, and London; all great empires in their time – and now I’ve seen DC. The buildings were cool, but I was more impressed by the smallness of all mankind. The beauty of the architecture was almost surpassed by the fragility of it all. In fact, the zoo was more thrilling to me (strangely) than any other place I visited. Saw an elephant for the first time!!
The whole trip left me pondering the vanity of pursuing power and fame – even wealth. The buildings so massive they encase airplanes and houses showcase the strong belief this country has in progress to the crowds of empty passersby who for some small moment can take pride in the meager achievements of the human race.
This last thought has made me seriously question the motivations behind my life goals. The Bible says to aspire to a quiet life of peace and work; yet, my goal has been influence and ease – or happiness, success and power. I don’t think I understand what Jesus meant when He pronounced blessing on the poor in spirit, mourners, and meek ones in the Beatitudes.
If Jesus, the suffering rejected Messiah, embraced humility, servanthood, and death, why do those who claim to follow Him spend their lives pursuing the exact opposite condition?
Jesus had no place to call home, but we think God owes me a big fancy one. His friends were the rejects of society who we will only ‘minister’ to from a distance. We hide away in grand temples built to shield the empty souls within from the sufferings of those without, whose faith is too small to be blessed by God with all the things Jesus never had.
If I am truly to follow Christ, should I not actively seek the lowly and despised people, positions, and circumstances? I think I do not because my worth is determined by my opinions of others’ opinions of me. I forget the ridiculous nature of seeking confirmation from others in my same condition instead of from the Creator who is the source of my value.
Even the church fails in this respect when it seeks to glorify itself rather than God. The image has become greater than the reality, and even this cannot make up for what is lost. The Christian is caught up in the race; not toward God’s high calling to lose one’s life, but toward self-promotion and ease, fame and popularity, acceptance from others and value through his or her own self and accomplishments.
Have people failed to allow the purpose of progress to survive by giving up their lives for its advancement?
Only one month later, these questions grew stronger as I travelled through the heart of China. During my studies at a university in northeast China, I enjoyed a cultural excursion to the countryside where I shared a 3’x8’ plywood bed with another student in a cement kitchen. I spent a couple days helping a rural family pull cornstalks from the field and shell corn with a hand grinder like the one I used to play with at my grandfather’s house. This was their livelihood.
Jumping from the affluent, westernizing, coastal city of Dalian into the realities of rural China, I was shocked by the sudden irrelevance of my worldview.
Something is Missing (October 6, 2010)
The one thought that will really change my worldview will be the picture of five people beside the road as we drove to the Mongolian Desert. Outside a row of tiny connected houses lay heaps and mounds of corn. An older person, a man, a woman, and two little girls sat buried in a pile of un-husked corn, removing the outsides and adding to the golden stack beside them. They seemed happy and content doing this job and did not even care to notice our passing tour bus.
Later on, I was working out in the fields with several other students and watching an old woman bend over to pull the base of a corn stalk from the ground. She hit it against a board a couple of times to remove the dirt and then tossed it into a wagon pulled by a little machine. I was just doing this for fun, but this was her livelihood. Those pieces of corn stalks would keep her warm the coming winter.
Compared to my life, what does her future hold? What about the family with their relatively tiny mound of corn? Or the young couple with beaming faces that passed our tour bus with a tiny motorcycle. They were obviously in love. But what else do they have to look forward to?
The people I saw are focused on just getting by with their life while I popped in and out for a minute, glad to remain unfettered by their circumstances. Who’s to say their lives are unhappy or unfulfilled? How does what they do compare in significance to the actions of a suburban American family? Is the meaning of life completely different? Does their existence make a difference in the world? Not in the way I usually think of making a difference.
Is there something missing in my philosophy of life
Defining Purpose (November 16, 2010)
Wow! What a strange experience these past few months have turned into. My heart is broken over the empty buildings, spiritual vacuum, ‘faced’ society, limited opportunity, and worship of money that engulf the Chinese who do not live in the poverty of the countryside. Why am I so blessed? What is my responsibility?
China has opened my eyes to the rose-colored world I didn’t know I enjoyed. Furthermore, it has challenged me to use my opportunity to make something great…and at the same time love every moment. Even as I recognize my potential, I cannot stop thinking of the boy in the country who will spend his whole life working 5:00 am – 8:00 pm every day in fields and factories to earn just enough to survive. What about him?
Returning home from China with ridiculously long hair, some mastery of a foreign language, and many pictures to share with all of my friends, I was somewhat surprised by the luxury my family enjoyed. However, I did not have time to reflect on cultural differences. Within two weeks, I was leaving for England with the full intention of starting a business while studying at Oxford University.
Two Realities (January 7, 2011)
Another year; another country. All this traveling is making me feel a longing for someplace to call home. Arrived in the land of brilliant green and dull gray through London….
Surprisingly, my lifestyle of cultural exploration is becoming less glamorous. Today I am in England, and I am most excited about business.
This year may be the terrible twos of my self-discovery and Christian growth. God, give me the grace to persevere, the joy to bring You honor, and the love to bless others. I am grateful for this opportunity but realize it looks easier on paper.
Today I am a child of God, tomorrow is full of hope – I am blessed!
My view of the world was changing, but my view of myself still needed to catch up. The difficulty I encountered sprang from the continuing rift between my mind and my heart. Though I had given my heart to something I did not understand, I had not allowed my mind to follow. Thus my passions fought to send my actions in a different direction than that intended by my mind.
Everything that I wanted my life to be about had no support from what I believed. Within my understanding of Christianity, there was no room for me to work in business. Thus, I found it incredibly difficult to put any effort into building what I had envisioned early in the year.
Two months later, I finally uncovered the nature of my dilemma as well as the key to solving it. I had mentally abandoned my beliefs about the lifestyle of Christianity that I grew up with, but I had no other system by which to live. Even though I didn’t know what I believed apart from Jesus, I still had to act on some principle. Having no other options, I had returned to the principles of life advocated by my previous belief system. Before I could abandon these broken structures that had led to my crucial decision the preceding spring, I would have to acquire a new way of living.
As part of the Summit Oxford program, I received the tools I would need to begin this process. More importantly, I finally encountered a view of the Bible that made practical sense with reality. The following scattered thoughts reveal something of the excitement I felt at discovering that the Bible may actually be useful in discerning something about life.
A Bigger Picture (April 7, 2011)
Christianity is so much more than a fairy tale. It’s about more than just a religion, but it is not just about a relationship either. I think God has a big thing going on that Christians package and shrink-wrap into a bite sized ‘Jesus loves you – pray this prayer’ message. It’s about life. It’s about what’s good for you. It’s not about getting out of here or skipping hell…whatever that means. God made people on earth for a reason; I just don’t know what that is yet (I really don’t understand the big story yet either, but it’s pretty cool).
“Christians are not in a war against people; we are in a war against evil. How often we forget that!” – Kevin James Bywater
I’m not really sure what I believe right now, but I believe it strongly. Weird, I know; but I have decided to place my trust outside myself in the one person that claims to deserve it: Jesus. My questioning is about what that really means and how it plays out in every day life.
Irrelevant Faith (April 12, 2011)
I have realized that my simplistic faith is relevant personally, but not socially. While it remains the foundation of who I am, it must become something more. On the other hand, I feel like I should simply be content to let this faith gradually grow. I guess good things have to take time…
Along with a sense of urgency to accomplish something with my life, I continued to encounter the idea of patience. I was not ready to adopt some new standard that didn’t integrate with the world I was coming to understand, but I was not prepared to sit back forever.
In a state of confusion, I began to wander the streets of Oxford in the same way I had trudged along the paths beside the Irish Sea: looking for answers. Looking for peace.
One day, I walked down the main pedestrian shopping street in Oxford encountering musicians, salespeople, a Bible-holding speaker, a banner advertising healing, and a man who shoved Christian literature into my closed fist. I probably also passed some Christians who were simply letting their life preach to me. At some point in the past four years, I could have been any one of those people. Now I feel respect for their efforts, but a strange revulsion to their message. It is a religious message that did not connect with the surrounding culture in any way. Most people, including me, passed by these preachers at a safe distance. I was very confused by this.
On the one hand, I embraced the truth of Jesus more fully than ever before. But on the other hand, I was disgusted by the Church.
Passionless Easter (April 24, 2011)
Today was Easter. I did not go to church. I am frustrated with the false display of faith that I would have been part of if I had joined the festival at any church. I never want to attend church for the wrong reasons.
Experiencing Beauty (April 25, 2011)
I don’t like religious discussions with people because my faith is so closely connected to who I am. If they attack an idea I believe, it feels as if they are attacking my character. It is good that my faith defines who I am, but bad that I am unwilling to let it take a stand.
I continued to walk for miles every day looking for tangible evidence of my ephemeral faith. In exploration, I discovered many of the hidden secrets of the ancient city. In forced periods of rest, I would sit in the New College gardens listening to the birds and staring at the ancient walls that had once stood guard over the city. Sometimes I would join an evensong service and wonder at my suppressed emotions that soared with the music into the vaulted chapel ceilings.
In this state of persistent desire, I was satisfied for only one small moment. For a flash of a second, I was content. I was perfectly happy, and all the world was as it should be.
The Oxford Promise (April 2011)
Walking beside the banks of the River Thames in Oxford, I was struck by a feeling that made my heart skip a beat and my breath come short. A split second beam of light from the clouded sky flashed into my soul and disappeared leaving me fulfilled, longing, and excited to discover what just happened.
In anticipation and peace, I began waiting to discover what my heart now knew: that faith and life could be one not two. The fairytale would become reality and the Kingdom of God everything as I learned to see the world with eyes of faith. It was joy. It was love. It was the work of the Spirit.
As I become open to knowing, I would come to understand. The lives of those exemplified and admired could be mine, if I thought the reward worth the fight. The battle had not changed since the dawn of time. It was a fight with pride; a time to die to self that one may find life. No longer deceived by empty pleasures or satisfied with religion, I would fight for what was real: Trinity, knowing God – all that is good.
When I left Oxford a few weeks later, I realized that this singular moment had allowed me to accept the bliss of ignorance that only reveals itself in pursuit of truth. The summer months revealed that I was not content with what I had finally understood, but I waited patiently for that flicker of light I had received in Oxford to begin to grow. I had seen the future, now I was about to walk into it – though I didn’t know the way. Having identified the problem, I now struggled with the ever-increasing divide between what I once understood, what I now believed, and the motivation behind what I did every day.
The Logic of Doubt (September 4, 2011)
I am supremely frustrated at the way in which I do not understand myself…My ideals and beliefs drive me one way, but my actions and emotions take me another. I have not the will to confront them for I cannot discern which is better. For now, I must follow a course of faithfulness to my duties that are set before me: pursue the task of learning and remain open to new experiences that may shape my understanding of what it means to truly live.
James was right in saying, “one must ask in faith and believe without doubting; because he who doubts is a double-minded man unstable in all his ways. He is like a ship on the ocean tossed about by every wind of doctrine” (James 1:6).
This is what I want to do: to believe without questioning the nature of my belief or whether I am wrong. I used to have a much stronger sense of faith. I knew that the beliefs I had were right, that the principles I believed were true, that the actions I took were appropriate, and that those things I dismissed as false had no relevance to my life.
In the process of change, I have unrestrainedly remained open to new ideas, to new ways of life, and to new knowledge. Now, I have a choice before me to continue this openness.
Does staying open require me to doubt what I already know? Do my actions in acquiring knowledge require me to abandon what I already believe?
I think I cannot determine whether what I believe initiates the actions that I take, or if the actions that I take precede a change in my belief. Perhaps both happen simultaneously.
If so, a further question remains about whether I want to change either my actions or beliefs. If I choose to act in a certain way, I will find myself attempting to justify what I do by conforming my beliefs to it. However, if I choose to believe something, I will find myself acting in ways that prove the belief to be true.
Perhaps I assume that what I believe becomes for me that which is true. Specifically, I define truth in my mind and then believe this truth with my heart. Because of this assumption, I don’t trust what I believe to be true. Or at least some part of me doesn’t.
I suppose part of the reason for this lingering doubt is my constant desire for truth – or what I think is the truth – that exists out there somewhere yet beyond my reach. I still think I need to find it; still think I need to have a more complete knowledge of what is not truth in order to fully appreciate what I believe is truth.
I think that I want to believe that what I believe is truth is actually true and then build my life and justify my actions by it. However, I do not want to cut myself off into another bubble of self-created, self-justified truth that only I believe and that is actually false.
After my decision to trust Jesus, my life was defined by a relationship that I would not necessarily understand with my mind. I made this decision only after seriously doubting the ability of my mind to discover the truth and have distrusted my own reasoning ever since that time. Nevertheless, I made the decision to trust with full knowledge and understanding of what it meant: I would stop looking for the truth and believe His claim to be the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Then He would bring me into an understanding of the truth.
Because I recognized the implications of my decision and made it anyway, I still have grounds to question whether I made a wise or a foolish decision. At times I feel it was the best choice I ever made. At other times, I wonder if there could be another choice. I live my life by the decision I’ve made, but I do not stop wondering if another way could be better.
There seems to be a battle between my mind, my heart, and ‘me.’ I want to believe, want to be secure, and want to know the truth. One part of me says that when I find the truth I will believe it. Another part of me wants to believe that I already know the truth and wonders why I constantly doubt whether I actually do know the truth. Yet a third part of me wants to be apathetic and not really care whether I know the truth or not – after all life is about living, not believing.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Luke 10:27). I must conclude then, that the emotions, the reason, the actions, and the core of my being all must love God.
I think that I do not love God with my mind. My mind once governed the core (me), or else was the core of how I defined myself and the world around me. It determined who I was and who I would become. This was the part of me that was displaced when I decided to let Jesus own my life. But I need to make decisions that satisfy my emotions/soul/core or the actions that I take will not satisfy me. I also need to make decisions to take action using my mind or I will condemn myself for lack of justification in my acting.
The difficulty lies in the idea that a relationship springs from the heart and is validated by the mind. I am a cerebral guy. I like to think. Furthermore, I have thought that emotions are fickle and not to be trusted. I spent much of my teenage years trying not to cry or feel emotion. Instead, I sought to logically process the events around me and reconcile them to principles that I believed or thought I should believe. Now I am torn in two directions. I want to follow my heart (at least my emotions desire this), but my mind believes that following my heart is stupid.
Perhaps this is a hangover from my previous experience with Christianity that was based on principles instead of a relationship. I suspect the relationship was there all along, but I defined it in terms of principles. Now, perhaps the principles are still there, but I define them by the relationship instead. If this is the case, then I can be open to new principles, but judge them by the relationship. To this point, all principles that I have retained are both supported by and supporting the relationship.
I know my mind is to be transformed (Romans 12:2);
I know my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19);
I know that Faith …wait, I don’t know that faith is not logical. I am not totally sure if faith happens in the mind or the heart. Perhaps faith is the core of who a person is? Faith is not something I can do on my own, so it’s not a choice for me to make. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If that is true, then it doesn’t matter if I want it, if I feel a need for it, or if I center my life on it. It is what I can trust. Do I trust my faith? I am saved through faith (Romans 5:1).
How do I now live through faith? The just shall live by faith (Hebrews 10:38).
I guess my real concern is figuring out how I should live – how I should act every day. Do I make choices based on my emotions, on logic, or on what I think the core of my being would demand? Perhaps I don’t even need to think about this and just do what comes naturally. If I delight in God, He will give me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). My only task then is to seek Him, and then, of course, to do what He says. If I am seeking Him, though, I will do what He says.
Then my actions are not a choice, or something I do logically. Perhaps the rational support for my actions is something that comes later. But the decision to act is not entirely an emotional decision either. I may or may not feel like acting in a certain way. I may not even feel good about the consequences. The actions do not affect the core, which is unchanging, but they do come from the core. If the core is truly faith in Jesus as it should be, then my actions come from here. Or at least my decision to act in a certain way must come from here.
I don’t want to quite admit this because it means that everything I do must be right. I know I feel bad about some things, and there are other things that I know to be right to do even though I don’t do them (Romans 7:15). I also don’t want to say that I’m just going to do whatever I want because God can make that be whatever He wants. I feel like that would leave me going my own way with God trying to get my attention.
Although the pages of reasoning outlined above never led me to a satisfactory conclusion, they did prepare me to encounter a simple idea that would radically transform my approach to understanding faith.
The expanded version of this statement shows the futility of the reasoning that is outlined above. If faith without works is dead, and works without love count as nothing, then faith can only be validated through a relationship of love.
I would never be able to rationalize what I did not live out. I would never be able to live out what I did not believe. What had begun as a relationship could not be described in terms of logic. I would never figure out how to live by a set of rules.
When my friend said, “life is not about the right answers, but about the right relationship” she summarized a growing thought in my mind. This thought eventually shifted the entire focus of my search for truth. Instead of looking for the logical principles by which one attempts to explain life, I began to look for a relationship with God, myself, and the world around me that would allow me to experience life in all of its fullness. Simplistically speaking, I began to search for pragmatic truth. I would believe what worked. The outcome of my actions would prove the validity of my beliefs.
Faith (October 17, 2011)
I am still looking into what my relationship with God should look like. It is becoming easier to live by the principles of the Bible when I recognize their value for bringing me closer to my Best Friend and for loving others. I pray that I will remain open to change. I also wish to grow in faith. I don’t know why my biggest question is often whether or not I should believe. Because of the way my mind works, I can see the glasses I have on even while I am wearing them. Sometimes I wonder what the world would look like if I put on a different pair of glasses. I think faith happens every time I decide to keep the glasses on.
Jump to: Table of Contents
Previous Section: Faith
Next Section: Love
Subscribe to my blog for a FREE digital copy of this book!
Purchase an eBook for easy offline reading
Buy a Real Book!
(You can touch it, and smell it, and write in it! Really, you should give it a go!)