Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is God Your Co-Pilot?

We like the phrase: “God is my Co-Pilot” because it means that we’re the ones still driving, still the ones in control.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Co-Pilot is usually not as good or less experienced than the Pilot. And for God to take that role of Co-Pilot really means that:

• We own the car—it’s our car to drive—i.o.w.—it’s my life…

• We are the better Pilot for our car—i.o.w.—we know better than God

We want God in our car only so long as we’re the ones still driving—we don’t want to consider ourselves as the passenger to our own life. If there’s an emergency, then we’ll let God take the wheel for a while. But in many ways, He’s more like our Chauffeur until we can get back in the driver’s seat.

I hate to break this to you, but God shouldn’t be your Co-Pilot, He needs to be your Pilot. And He is not your Chauffeur taking you where you want to go, He is the one who determines the destination and the speed. And He doesn’t always fly around the turbulence.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, He gets frustrated with Back-Seat Drivers just as much as you do!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Feeling Like Peter - Movie Review of Prince Caspian

Originally Written 7/2009

I’m beginning to feel a lot like Peter. And I’m not talking about Peter, the Apostle.

I’m talking about Peter in the movie Prince Caspian.

I never did a review of the movie so much of that will be covered here. Overall, I liked the movie, though the moral was not as clear as in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I know that many people did not like the movie, particularly for its focus on fighting and its portrayal of Peter.

I really like the portrayal of Peter for several reasons. In the book, the Pevensie children transition back and forth from Narnia without much emotional exploration. Given that Lewis was writing children’s stories, it’s not surprising nor is it a failure that he does not go into this emotional depth. As an adult reading the story, however, it always felt lacking. What reason could there be for the older children not seeing Aslan when Lucy did? How do you go from a 30+ year old High King to a nobody teenager again, man that’s gotta be tough.

In the movie, this is explored, especially in Peter’s character. Starting out, he is angry, even bitter towards Aslan because he does not understand what Aslan is doing. “It’s been nearly a year…” complains Peter as he wonders why they haven’t been taken back into Narnia. He preferred Narnia to this world, preferred being King. He resented being thrust back into a boy’s role with no power or influence.

In many ways, he believed it was a mistake that they ever stumbled out of Narnia. But for reasons he didn’t understand, Aslan had not fixed the problem. A year later, Peter is confused and angry, hence his willingness to fight anyone. Susan had seen it all before and Edmond was instantly in support of his brother.

Back in Narnia, Peter is back in his element. Immediately he resorts to his command authority and it often conflicts with Caspian’s leadership. But something is different—he’s not all that interested in Aslan—he is fighting to restore what he sees as his kingdom—early on, Peter fights only “for Narnia”. You hear his battle cries during the castle onslaught. He’s trying to “do it on his own”, something which the White Witch tempts him with later on after his failure—“you know you can’t do this on your own.”

I believe Peter doesn’t see Aslan when Lucy does because—one, he is angry and resentful towards him, and two, he no longer trusts Aslan nor relies on him—Peter’s reassertion of command authority brings with it an “I can only depend on myself”. Because Peter didn’t understand Aslan, he stopped looking for him—stopped waiting for him. Despite his experience with Aslan, Peter lives and acts much more like Trumpkin, who doesn’t believe in Alsan at all—Peter has become a functional atheist.

Peter’s situation influenced those around him who followed his lead. Edmond didn’t see Aslan in part b/c he was taking his cues from Peter and falling back into that role. Susan didn’t see Aslan in part b/c she really didn’t want to be there at all. At the end of the Narnia stories, she is the only one who doesn’t come back b/c she is no longer a ‘friend of Narnia”.

Peter even influences Lucy, who did see Aslan—she follows Peter anyway—in this way, the blind was leading the seeing. Lucy still had a childlike faith and a love for Aslan—but she let the pressures of others stop her from going to him. This is something that Aslan mildly rebukes her for when he says, “and why did that stop you from coming to me”, after Lucy had said the others didn’t believe her.

Peter is like many Christians. Time elapses in our walk with Jesus and we forget. We build up certain expectations of what we think God is doing or should do—we assume we know His will—and then it doesn’t happen like we think it should. Prayers seem unanswered—we step out on faith and it feels like God isn’t holding up His side of the venture. And so we get frustrated, confused, resentful and sometimes angry. We’re tempted to lose hope, we’re tempted to become functional atheists who try to do it all on their own strength. We pray less often, we read the Word less and don’t get as much out of times of fellowship and worship. It saps the strength out of us. Our spiritual vitality drains away.

This is why, in many ways, I feel like Peter. Last year, about this time, my family and I stepped out on faith, jumped off the high dive, in stepping down from my pastoral position in Macomb, IL. We didn’t have a position already lined up, we didn’t know where we were going. We believed God would provide. Provide a short-term job; provide a buyer for our house, provide a new pastoral position.

Early on, it looked like God would do it all. I got a temp. job for $10/hour that very week. We had some early showings of the house. Our search was up and rolling. We thought we knew the will of God and were seeing it played out. Then, things began to change—He wasn’t working on our timetable anymore. I was laid off from that job on Dec. 23rd and couldn’t find another one until March. The house has yet to sell and has become like a rope holding us back. We feel led into church planting and He gave us a location and a vision but there have been delays and frustrations.

I still believe we correctly discerned God’s will in stepping down from my pastoral position. But now we are asking the questions… “how long Lord?” When will these steps of faith we’ve taken come to pass? For me, like Peter, “It’s been a year” how long are we going to have to wait? Have we missed something in His will? Are we not listening?

I honestly don’t have an easy answer for this type of question.

Unfortunately we are strained, emotionally, spiritually, physically. My current job is overnights at Wal-Mart. While I am thankful to have it, it doesn’t come near to supporting our family, especially with the house payment. If not for the love and generosity of family and a good couple of friends, we would not be making it.

God may very well use the Wal-Mart position as a blessing as I should be able to transfer up to a local store in Shorewood. However, the longer it takes, the less likely as they are in a hiring crunch. We are now trying to sell our house “By Owner” and we’ve dropped our price. Hopefully it will move soon.

It’s hard not to get frustrated. It’s hard to keep the lines of communication open when you begin to sound more like a complaining record that keeps skipping back over the same material over and over again.

But here is where I believe faith is proved genuine. When you don’t know. When you don’t have all the answers. When things are not easy. The light shines in and through the darkness. His word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. In times like this, He is more like a flashlight than the sun. He is lighting the next step or two ahead, not a mile ahead. We may see the destination or the horizon, but not all the twists, turns and valleys in between. We must walk with Him and trust Him. We must yearn and seek after Him in spite of the uncertainties. And be honest with Him about what you’re thinking and feeling (He knows it anyway). But trust Him anyway—trust what He has shown you and who He is and keep walking.

To quote Caedmon’s Call—we have to realize that when we are down in the valley and the flood of God’s grace and presence comes, it’s the valleys that fill first.

Update: 3/18/11

Wow, I never finished this or posted it that I can find. It’s been almost two years and things have not resolved. The house never sold in our possession. We moved onsite to Shorewood, IL to plant The Pursuit. A month later our funding was pulled. A month after that, we had to move to Murray, KY with family where we’ve been for over a year.

Jobs have been hard to find. The first job I found was serving at a brand new restaurant—wasn’t making much money… and then it burned to the ground not even 6 months into its opening. I have been recently hired on permanently at Collegebookrenter.com doing customer service. This has proven a great blessing.

My search for a new Ministry position has also proven challenging. I’ve made it to several churches’ last cut, but never been the one called. Many times the enemy likes to use that against me and my confidence.

Not even supply preaching is happening like I thought it would. Last fall, my wife and I took on the college ministry at our church, using our church plant material to provide some identity.

In any event, it’s been almost 3 years since my family and I stepped out on faith and very little has gone “according to plan”. There are days I feel more like Peter than ever. But there are many others in which I am compelled to trust and wait that His plans have always been better than mine and that there are things I must be faithful at doing in the meantime.

I have certainly had opportunities for the Kingdom of God that I never would have had if things worked out my way. I’ve met and hopefully influenced people in a way that honors my Savior.

I have had the opportunity to do some writing that I have been led to do but never had the time to do. I’ve made good progress into a book on the life of Jacob.

I’m reminded reading this again—Who’s Kingdom am I fighting for? Mine or His?

Have I been acting like a Functional Atheist trying to do everything by my own strength, power and wits?

Is my confusion and struggle in this walk steadfast through the struggle? Am I leading my family accordingly, my wife and kids, to see God as Lucy did even in the midst of the uncertainty?

Lord, I want to confess my confusion. My expectations have not been met because my understanding of You is too small and limited.

I know You are here with me wherever I go for You have promised never to leave or forsake me.

I call out to You for resolution, a light for my path. Help me be faithful wherever the path goes. Help me discern Your voice and leading. Help me depend on You and not my own strength or wisdom.

Help me to be a light especially to my family. I pray that my wife is not discouraged. I pray my children do not lose heart because of our uncertainty. I pray this experience strengthens their ability to trust You even when nothing makes sense. Even when things don’t “work out” when we’re trying to be faithful.

Help me not to relate to You with the attitude, “I’ll do this for You so You will do this for me.”

You are my portion and great reward—if I have nothing else but You, I have all I will ever need.

Help me to live this way every day—drive away despair from me. Give me a renewed hope and strength.

Thank you for sustaining me in all this experience.

Help me be more like Peter from the Bible. Help me be like Peter from the movie in that I have courage to fight and trust in Your deliverance.

May You be exalted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Art of Storytelling and Mark's Gospel

How would the story be changed? How differently would the story be told if…

Once upon a time, Sleeping Beauty was awakened by a kiss from Prince Charming.

A Long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star.

Knowing how the story ends takes away a lot of the tension. You don’t have to worry as much about the characters or the success of the heroes. When they are in danger, you know they will make it through because you already know how it ends.

Not knowing how something resolves or how it ends creates a tension and uncertainty. It makes you want to know more, keeps your attention until it resolves. Will the heroes survive and make it out of the tough situation? It is the unknown, the unexpected that keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat.

One of the best devices to aid in creating audience tension is the Cliffhanger. You put the main character in some precarious setting and then stop the show before the moment resolves. Then you have to tune in at the “Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel” in order to see what happens next.

Today, many TV shows have a season finale that involves a cliffhanger. People then have to frustratingly wait until next season. One of the most famous cliffhangers spawned a whole national discussion that gave the nation an escape from the news of a presidential election, an ongoing hostage crisis, and a gas shortage.

The characterizing phrase from this moment was, “Who Shot JR?” back in 1980.

One of the Gospels about Jesus does this same thing; the Gospel of Mark.

It is the shortest of the gospels but tells the story in the best way. It is actually meant to be read in one sitting.

It moves very quickly using words like “immediately” or “suddenly”. It is filled with movement, displays of power, emotional responses.

Jesus is the main character and you as the audience learn who is He is in chapter 1 verse 1. The demons that Jesus encounters also know who He is. The only ones who don’t really know are the Disciples, the twelve men selected to follow Him.

Of the disciples, the story focuses on Peter, the second most important person in the story. He is the first disciple mentioned by name (Simon), he is the last disciple mentioned.

The question becomes for the audience… will the disciples, will Peter, ever figure it out? Will they ever see Jesus for who He really is?

Chapter 8 is the pivotal point. Jesus chastises the disciples by saying, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened? ‘Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear?’” 8:17-18

After this, Jesus heals a blind man by touching him twice. The first time, the man’s sight is partially restored, he sees things blurry, like wearing someone else’s glasses. Then after the second touch, the man sees Jesus clearly.

Jesus then asks the disciples the most important question: “Who do people say that I am?” He wants to know how well they see Him. Are they seeing things blurry or clearly? The people are a bit confused about His identity, but Peter says boldly, “You are the Messiah!” 8:29

Peter and the disciples see clearly for one moment. But then Jesus changes course and begins to teach about His eventual crucifixion and death. And Peter, who just 3 verses earlier proclaimed Jesus the Messiah begins to rebuke Jesus and Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for not seeing clearly.

Chapter 9 lets Peter see Jesus in His glory, called the Transfiguration, but they still don’t keep the focus very long.

The fast moving story covering several months slows down when they reach Jerusalem. Now the story goes day by day. In these days, Jesus promises a betrayer to which Peter says he never will but is willing to die for Jesus.

The last time a disciple is active in the story is when Peter denies even knowing Jesus in 14:66-72. He can no longer see Jesus clearly, he is afraid.

Now if you were in the first century, this story would have been read to you. Mark, the writer of the story is historically tied to Peter, traveling with him and attending him.

I believe this gospel was written while Peter was still alive. People would have come to the church gathering to hear the great Peter speak. While Mark or someone is reading this story, Peter would be on the front row listening to all his stories of failure with Jesus. Really? The man who denied Jesus isn’t the legend we’ve been hearing about.

Then the last day of Jesus’ life, when He is crucified goes hour by agonizing hour; starting at the 3rd , then the 6th, finally dying at the 9th hour at the beginning of a lunar eclipse.

This is an unexpected ending for the hero of the story if this was the first time you’ve ever heard it. A true tragedy.

None of the disciples are mentioned in the rest of Mark. On the day of Resurrection, it is the women who go to the tomb. The scene is disturbed, the women are getting more and more concerned when they are given a message: “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there just as He told you.’”

Notice how Peter’s name is specifically mentioned again, to bring him back into the story. Then the story ends with the greatest cliffhanger possible. The women are afraid, afraid to tell anyone. THE END

That’s where Mark ends. In the various manuscripts that have survived from antiquity there is evidence of 4 different lengths of endings, the one preserved in many Bibles today is the longest. But it has a different style, different vocabulary and some questionable statements. It is not from the same source.

But the cliffhanger ending, I believe is intentional. As a storyteller, the audience (who’s been sitting for an hour) is now primed and ready to hear the “Rest of the Story” as Paul Harvey says. It serves as an introduction for Peter who can then stand up and share his eyewitness testimony, how he now sees Jesus clearly and how Jesus has forever changed his life.

This follows closely his own descriptions in the books he wrote for the New Testament.

Some of my favorite verses 1 Peter 3:15-16, I believe reminisces from his own experiences of denial and unwillingness to answer when asked about Jesus. 15-16—“set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense (an answer) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect.”

He says in 2 Peter 1:16—“For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”

Mark’s missing ending is a classic literary cliffhanger to introduce the eyewitness Peter. When Peter died in Rome (traditionally crucified upside down), this closure of the story was lost.

The problem is that the cliffhanger is unsettling until it is resolved. So the endings are attempts to finish the story.

Nothing is more frustrating for a modern TV show to end a season with a cliffhanger, but have the next season cancelled before that story is completed. That’s what is happening here.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Shame we Try to Hide

At the BCM here in Murray last night, the topic was shame and how that can paralyze us.

It’s amazing to think that ever since the days of Adam & Eve, we have responded the same way to our shame—we try to cover it up, or we try to hide.

That’s what they did in Genesis 3. They tried to cover up their nakedness and when God did show up, rather than rush to meet Him, they hid from Him.

One of the joys of my day is when I come home and the kids are excited to see me home. They often rush to meet me.

But there are days I can tell when one or both has gotten in trouble. They’re not too enthused to welcome Dad home because I’m going to find out about it.

I believe that’s a lot of what was going on with them in the Garden, but we still act very much the same way.

We put on a public mask, we try to hide and pretend everything is alright. Our greatest fear becomes being discovered and we go to great lenghts to keep our shame from becoming known.

We may know and it eats us up inside, but we try to keep it in the dark—hide it in the depths where the light of day cannot penetrate.

But God does not want us to stay in the darkness. It is why He sent us the Light of the World.

But when it comes to our shame, we are more comfortable with our darkness than we are with the light. Shame keeps us afraid. But God knows that Victory never comes in shame and secret, but only when the light exposes what we try so hard to hide.

John 3:19-20—“This, then, is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.”

Our shame will keep us from the light and from the only source of victory and power over it. We love our sin more than we love the redemption.

But Jesus came on a rescue mission to deliver us from darkness and shame.

Colossians 1:13-14—“He has rescued us from the dominion (power) of darkness (shame) and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption (victory), the forgiveness of sins.”

The last thing our shame wants to do is be exposed, but it is the thing we need the most. Jesus will cover your sin with His righteousness.  Do not love your darkness but let the Light of Christ rescue you.