Saturday, July 31, 2010

the Christian atheist?

I just finished reading a book by the title of The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel. The title of the book seemed like a bit of an impossibility to me when I first saw it, but once I read Groeschel's definition of a Christian Atheist and really began to dig into the book, I realized how true that seemingly impossible phrase is.

Usually when we hear the word atheist it is used in reference to someone who doesn't believe in God. Based on that definition, the idea of a Christian Atheist seems a little bit absurd. Groeschel defines a Christian Atheist as someone who believes in God (a head knowledge of God) but lives as if He doesn't exist (God has no impact on daily living for that person). That's something I can say has been true of me at times, and I would guess that many others would also say the same thing about theirs lives. It is actually quite easy to believe in God and yet live as if He doesn't exist. Each chapter in the book talks about a different way we can live like God doesn't exist while still saying we believe in Him, and probably even going to church, Bible study, etc every week.

Christian Atheists believe in God but don't really know Him.
Christian Atheists believe in God but they are ashamed of their past.
Christian Atheists believe in God but they aren't sure God loves them.
Christian Atheists believe in God  but not in prayer.
Christian Atheists believe in God but don't think He's fair.
Christian Atheists believe in God but won't forgive others.
Christian Atheists believe in God but don't think they can change.
Christian Atheists believe in God but still worry all the time.
Christian Atheists believe in God but pursue happiness at any cost.
Christian Atheists believe in God but trust more in money.
Christian Atheists believe in God but don't share their faith.
Christian Atheists believe in God but not in His church.

I don't know about you but when I read that list I can definitely identify with most of them - some more than others. After I read the chapter titles I was rather unsure of what I would find in the book. It would be easy with chapter titles like that for the book to be one that leaves you feeling alone and defeated. But, instead, I found that Groeschel was incredibly encouraging in what he had to say in each chapter. This was a book that spoke of a personal journey for him. That was definitely encouraging to me - to be reminded that these struggles are common to the family of followers of Jesus.

Groeschel ended the book talking about something he called "third line faith". He lays out a picture of three lines drawn in the sand, representing different places we could be on journey with God. Groeschel describes each line better than I could, so I'll quote him here.
Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God helped me, I forgot about him. (pg. 236).
Line 2: I believe in God and Christ's gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back - as long as it doesn't cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. If I don't have to change too much, I'll do some of what God asks. If it doesn't hurt too much, I'll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right? (pg. 236-237).
Line 3: I believe in God and Christ's gospel enough to give my life to it. (pg. 237).
Reading this made sense to me, and challenged me deeply. It really fit in well with the rest of the book for me. I think to close, I will just leave you with the questions that have been in my head since I finished the book - questions that I need to think about and go to God about. Hopefully, they will challenge you to grow in your own journey with God. (And if you're looking for a good read, pick up the book.)

In what areas of my life am I a Christian Atheist? Are there places in my life where I live as though God doesn't exist?
Do I really know God? How can I get to know God better?
Am I ashamed of my past? Will I allow God to redeem my past and use it for His glory?
Do I know that God loves me unconditionally? Am I willing to ask God to help me understand that better?
Do I believe in prayer? Or is it something I think only works for other people?
Do I think that God is unfair? How do deal with things when what has happened in life really doesn't seem fair?
Am I struggling to forgive someone?
Do I doubt that I can change?
Do I still worry all the time? Am I willing to give that up to God?
Am I pursuing happiness at any cost? Or am I pursuing God at any cost?
Am I trusting more in money? Or in God?
Am I sharing my faith?
Am I third-line follower of Christ? Do I want to be? Why?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

the unmatchable greateness of God

I was reading in Isaiah when I was struck by just how incredible the God we serve is. God is bigger than we could ever imagine. And there is nothing and no one in all creation that can be compared to Him.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has understood the mind of the Lord,
or instructed him as his counselor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
. . .

To whom, then, shall we compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
. . .

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
. . .

"To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
who created all these?
He brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Isaiah 40:12-15, 18, 21-22, 25-26 (NIV)

As I been thinking about these verses and the God they describe, I have come to realize how often I try to make God smaller so that I can understand Him better. These verses in Isaiah describe a big God - a God that cannot be compared to anyone or anything - a God that is difficult to fully comprehend.

We spend much of our lives a followers of Christ trying to understand God. There is nothing wrong with this, but we do have the danger that in doing so we actually make God smaller than He is just so that we can feel like we understand Him better. But theses verses and many others describe a God that we will never be able to fully understand.

It is okay that don't completely understand God. In fact, I would say that it is a good thing that we do not completely understand Him. The mystery that comes from God being so much bigger than our minds can comprehend draws us in closer as we seek to better understand.

I think that sometimes we need to just stop and remind ourselves of the fact that we do not completely comprehend God and that it is a good thing. That way we can take comfort in what God has revealed to us about Himself and look forward to continuing to understand God better over the course of our journey through life with Him.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

the blessing of family

So far this has been a busy week (this is the first evening I have been home since Friday), but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's been a week of a lot of stuff with my family, and except for a few moments, I've really enjoyed it all. My sister and her husband have been in town and that means we've had everyone together a lot.

This week I've been reminded again of the incredible family I'm blessed to have - my Mom, my Dad, both of my sisters . . . and now two brother-in-laws. Honestly, at first I thought it would be strange to have two more guys at the table for family dinners, but I love it. My sisters have picked some quality guys and I've enjoyed getting to know them better this week. All to soon, it seems like, Sunday will be here and my sister and husband will head home.

I don't think I've always thought of my family as a blessing. They are days when they drive me up the wall and all I want to do is escape from them. But, I think I've also taken them for granted sometimes. Rather than see how rich I was in having parents and sisters, and now brothers, who were there for me I just kind of assumed that was normal and I deserved that. I'm realizing now that they are a blessing.

I have no idea why God has seen fit to give me such an amazing family, but He has. With my youngest sister and her husband not living here I think I've realized that all the more. I treasure the time that they do come to town for and I treasure the time I get to spend with my other sister and her fiance and my parents. We laugh about silly things and tease each other about stuff we used do, or in some cases still do. We make a point to spend time together just to be together - there doesn't always have to be a reason.

I guess tonight, in the midst of a busy week filled with family, I'm feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my family. They're the people I know that I can count on to be there and the ones I call first with news of any kind. They're also the people who I probably argue with the most and who can annoy me the most, but that's because we are close.

So, to my family, who may read this blog . . . thank you for being who you are. Thank you for all the laughs and tears and for just being willing to enjoy life. You are the biggest blessing in my life. I love you all!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

nothing is hidden from God

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to Whom we must give an account." (Hebrews 4:13, NIV).

I don't know about you, but when I read that verse I have two seemingly conflicting responses. One is relief. Relief that there is one Person with whom I can let down every guard and be the most authentic me possible. The other is dread. Dread because it means no matter how well I've hidden things I've done or said from other people, I've never hidden them from God.

In many ways, this is kind of a circular pattern of thinking. Thinking about there being nothing in my life that is hidden from God may be a bit fearful at times, but as I dwell on that thought longer and realize that, in spite of knowing and seeing it all, He still loves me brings me to feeling relief that I can be completely real in one relationship in my life. And then, I go back to thinking about the things I've done that I wish I could have hidden from God, which brings in an element of dread. But, then I go back to relief that He loves me anyways. This is one circle of thinking that really could go on forever.

Hebrews 4:15 goes on to explain an even greater reason why knowing that nothing is hidden from God's sight brings relief and peace into our lives when it says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin." (NIV). Jesus knows what it's like to be in our shoes when we face temptation- He's been there. That means that not being able to hide my struggles from Him doesn't surprise Him. And because He understands what it's like and can see them anyways, I can confidently go to Him (Hebrews 4:16) for help to resist temptation and forgiveness when I give in to temptation.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

times in the desert

The other day when I was reading in the book of the prophet Hosea, something in a couple of verses hit me. Hosea 2:14-15 says:
Therefore I am now going to allure her,
     I will lead her into the desert
     and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
     and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
     and in the day she came up out of Egypt. (NIV)
God is speaking in these verses of how He is going to win Israel back to Himself by taking her out into the desert and then restoring what she had to her.

It struck me that God was going to lead Israel into the desert to draw them back to Him and restore Israel. By removing Israel from all the other distractions around them, God would be able to draw them back and then restore what Israel had that they had lost when they wandered away from God.

It got me started thinking about our lives. I think God still desires to lead us out into the desert at times, because He has plans for us that require it. But we seem to be very set on avoiding the desert, spiritually speaking, at almost any cost. It is not necessarily a pleasant place to go and so we try to keep ourselves from it. But, I have started to wonder what we miss because we try to avoid going there.

I know when I look back at my life, I can see how the times when I did end up in the spiritual desert were times that I grew the most and I left those times with far more from God than I went into them with. When we find ourselves in the desert we do not have anything that is distracting us from God and what He wants to say to us. We may feel like there is no way that God can be present in those times because all that we find familiar seems to be gone. But, it is in exactly those times that we are in the best place to hear from God because there is nothing to distract us from hearing His voice speaking tenderly to us.

Maybe, as followers of Christ, we need to change our thinking about spiritual deserts. Rather than seeking to avoid them at all costs, maybe we need to allow God to lead us into them when He feels that it is necessary for our growth. As we see in Hosea, God was wanting to use the time in the desert to draw Israel back to Himself. And I believe that He often does draw us closer to Him through those times in the desert, as we have nothing else to turn to so we turn to Him.

But, God goes on to talk about that which He desires to restore to Israel while in the desert. I believe God wants to use our times in the spiritual desert to restore things to us as well. As He draws us closer to Himself, He can restore a passion for His Word, for worship. He can restore an excitement for a dream He has given us. He can give us a desire for serving.

God does not lead us into the spiritual desert to be cruel. He does it to draw us closer and to restore to us things we have lost in the busy-ness of life. It is for our good, not our harm.

What would happen if we changed our view of the times in the desert?

It probably will still be hard to be in the desert. A desert is, afterall, a pretty harsh place to be. But, if we began to see the time there as for our good, rather than just to be cruel, I think we would begin to see things in our lives that we never dreamed of.

What is your response to being led into the desert? Do you try to avoid it at all costs? Or do you follow willingly?

What has been at the other end of the time in the desert in your life? Has is been worth that time in the desert?

What do you think would happen if the next time you felt like you were being led into the desert you went willingly, rather than trying to fight it?