50 things I once believed (3)

 

So, how and why did I come to change my mind about these matters of my faith? I see at least seven steps common to virtually all of my change in belief.

First, someone challenged my thinking. In essence, they dared to say to me, “I respectfully disagree, and here’s why.” It wasn’t a matter of confrontation or debate, simply a clear and respectful challenge (let me underscore the word “respectful”). Someone dared to ask me why I believed what I believed, patiently listened to my response, and then either deliberately tried to set up a checkpoint of thought in my path or tried to plant in my mind the seed of a differing view.

In a few words, they disagreed with me without being disagreeable about it. As a result, I learned, and continue to learn, to welcome, rather than resent, questions about my faith.

Second, I dared to truly consider what the person had said or written. Actually “consider” isn’t a strong enough word; “ponder” is more accurate. But we’re talking baby steps here; consider, then ponder! This is often no easy thing to do, particularly given the speed at which we live our lives today and how so very much competes for our attention every minute of every day. Distractions are about us like the air; they’re everywhere. But unless a thought, especially a challenging thought, has time to settle deep into our mind, we will never open ourselves up to the chance of changing our mind.

If I changed my mind about something, it was because I didn’t let things go in one ear and straight out the other. This could very well be the most personally challenging of all the steps I’ll list here, for a full and busy life is not a friend to reflection.

Third, I talked with God about these things with faith. I prayed for God to shed his light on the matter. I asked him to show me if I was wrong, where I was mistaken, and what path to take. I trusted him to lead me to a better understanding and practice of his will. I believed he would cross my path with the people, places, things, and experiences that would answer my requests of him.

I believe he did. And I believe he does.

Fourth, I sought more information from the person who planted the seed. This rarely happened at the time of the question or challenge, but came about instead after pondering the matter a bit. It was as simple as saying to the person who had differed with me, “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. Tell me more. I’m here to listen and learn, not debate or argue. I want to know more about what you believe and why for your view intrigues me.” Significantly, it was in this listening that I often discovered that some, or even all, of my conceptions as to what exactly others believed, or why they believed what they did, were often skewed mistaken.

How very embarrassing, but, oh, how enlightening is this step! In this I continue to learn that embarrassment is more often than not, a necessary part of learning. If I will not risk shame, I will not grow. It’s as simple as that.

Fifth, I investigated matters for myself. That is, I started reading and digging into the subject at hand and as I did so, I deliberately read outside of my comfort zone. I read things that challenged my views and differed from my understandings. I read the other person’s mail, so to speak. I tried to walk a mile in their moccasins. And as I did so, I deliberately tried to keep an open mind and to not engage the material in a combative spirit. And then, having read the other person’s mail, I’d go back and examine my beliefs in light of what I had encountered.

I have grown to relish this step, for it is here that I hear the cogs of my mind turning most clearly.

Sixth, I began to look more closely at the fruit of my beliefs and the fruit of the beliefs of others. Ideas have consequences and as I traced the trail of various beliefs to their logical ends and began to pay attention to how they were commonly and outwardly expressed, I discovered much more about the real “stuff” of these beliefs. I found that sometimes a belief that sounded reasonable in my head and didn’t meet strong resistance when expressed in words, actually made little sense at all, or was contradictory to the facts at hand, when put into practice. Typically, what I learned from these observations came as a complete surprise to me. I had expected one thing, but witnessed another. I believed that practice is the acid test of faith, but I came to realize that if I didn’t hang around long enough to see what happens to the belief when it was put into the acid, I’d never really know what my beliefs, or the beliefs of others, were made of.

I can’t begin to say how immensely powerful this single step was to opening my eyes up to my change in belief on some matters (for example, #6 on my list). Some of the most humbling experiences in my life have come from taking this step quite seriously. I believe it is one of the most commonly overlooked and least often practiced of the disciplines mentioned here. May this change.

Finally, I made it a point to not stop looking at, thinking about, listening to, and seriously considering, the minority view on matters. This didn’t come naturally for me, nor did it come easily or quickly. It was something I had to work hard at developing. What influenced me strongly then was the fact that there were people around me, or people to whom I frequently exposed my mind, who believed the same way I believed. They were “the majority,” in my mind, because they were my circle of influence. What slowly dawned on me across the years is that “the minority” view on a matter needed to be given extra attention in my mind if their perspective was to ever get a fair hearing. How so? Because the influence of “the majority” was so strong in my mind that it tended to filter out any real chance of detailed consideration of differing views. And so, I made up my mind to no longer be capable of being a mere bobble-head doll, nodding in near automatic agreement with those in my circle of greatest influence. I deliberately chose to allow other perspectives to go against the flow and challenge my thinking.

This is a huge, significant step for it strongly calls out what I actually believe about God. None of us hold our beliefs alone, but majorities and minorities don’t factor into the mind of God. As a Christian, I live under his sovereignty, not my democracy.

Without a doubt, I remain a very long, long way from where God would have me to be in terms of my walk with him, and my being shaped into his Son’s likeness. But this shaping must occur, inside and out, and must not ever stop. If by sharing these things with you, you find you’ve been helped in some small way, then I know that I have been helped as well.

God have mercy and give more of his light to us all as we can see it. And may he smile on all of us as we seek to become and reflect his ways. Amen.

50 things I once believed (2)

 

Halt! You have reached an accountability checkpoint. Did you make your list of things you once believed in regard to faith, but now no longer believe? If not, stop, drop, and write. If so, proceed.

No doubt you’re wondering: “Why on earth did you ever believe some (or all) of those things?” I could name more reasons, but I’ll limit myself here to enumerating and commenting on six.

First, I came to hold the vast majority of those beliefs because someone taught them to me. If not by declaring them to me with their words, they trained me to hold them by their actions. I know of no one who willfully tried to deceive me into believing anything. Quite the opposite; they sincerely thought they were following the will of God and, perhaps even deliberately trying to enlighten me. But the fact remains that as I look back on such now I think: “My foolish heart was darkened and I didn’t even realize it at the time. As was their mind, too.”

Second, I believed many of these things because I thought they made sense to me in the moment and because I thought they helped me make sense of the people and situations around me. We humans will live without many things, but truly few of us will live without answers. And where no explanations are obvious, explanations will be created. This is just part of the stuff that makes us tick; we simply must believe something and that something must explain something going on in our head, going on around us, or both.

Third, some of these things I believed simply because I had never considered otherwise. They were things I had simply “always believed,” or so I thought. Holding such convictions was something akin to breathing; it was just something I did without need of ever giving it thought. Quite literally, some things I believed (and no doubt believe, present tense) without thinking. This, perhaps more so than all of my reflections on my beliefs, gives me great pause. To hold convictions of great consequence without thinking about them; I don’t even want to think about that! But think, I must.

Fourth, some of those matters I held as faith, but no longer do, I held because I wanted to be accepted by those around me. Now that may come as a shock to some of you who know me, and know me well. I am an independent spirit, to say the least. Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don’t recall ever choosing any conviction in my life because I thought it would gain me some inroad or standing with another. Such a mentality is nauseous to me, more nauseous than some of my former beliefs. However, just because I consciously shun such thinking, I would be a fool to think that such doesn’t work on my psyche and influence me in subtle, and unconscious (or subconscious) ways. Such is true for all of us. We are, in part, a product of our environment and we all, to one degree or another, want to fit in with our environment.

Fifth, I surely held some of those matters of faith in reaction to other beliefs. I saw what I perceived to be a great ditch on one side of the road and so I swerved hard to the other side to distance myself as far as possible from the perceived danger of the ditch … only to steer right into an equally deep, if not even more dangerous, ditch. I left the road because I feared leaving the road. No, such a position makes no sense at all, but whoever said all we humans believe springs from good sense? And so, some things I believed, no doubt came from well-intentioned, but nevertheless fatal, over-correction.

Sixth, I held all of those beliefs because I chose to believe them. I’m the one ultimately responsible for having held them, just as I’m the one finally responsible for having changed them. The buck stops here; I’m the one to blame. For all that could be said as to the influence of people, places, and things, I remain the captain of my soul, so to speak. No one forced me to believe any of these things. However I chose to embrace them, ignorantly or reflectively, I am the one who chose them.

So, why change? Hopefully there’s only one reason: because I’ve learned better. I want to believe it’s because I’ve gravitated more toward the center of God’s will. “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.” And the clearing of the clouds, that is the owning up to the fact that a great many of my firm, religious beliefs have significantly changed through time (and will, no doubt, continue to change in years to come if God grants me life and sense), affords me, as well as others, great gain. For when I acknowledge my changes in faith:

  • I more truly own the faith I have,
  • I open my mind to more of God’s light,
  • I guard myself from merely “following the herd,”
  • I call myself afresh to sharpen my critical thinking skills,
  • I break down some of the walls that hinder those yet to believe,
  • I cultivate the soil of my heart for the growth of honest humility,
  • I make it easier for others to change and/or admit their changes,
  • I pick up off the ground some of the stumbling stones for the next generation,
  • I am stirred to be more deliberate toward keeping the unity of the Spirit among believers,
  • and I find myself moved to be more patient with, and merciful toward, those with whom I differ.

And having said that, once again you have homework: pray about these things, the things on your list. How you arrived at them and how you came to leave them behind. Your prayers will be solid preparation for the conclusion of this series in tomorrow’s post.

this went thru my mind

 

Charitable giving: Giving is Up, But Not for the Church

“Giving USA, the leading authority on charitable giving, has just released its findings for 2011. Giving as a whole rose by roughly 4% to 298 billion dollars. This is about a 1% increase when inflation is factored in. … Giving to health, education, human services, arts, international affairs, environment, and animal organizations were all up. However; giving to religion decreased by nearly 2% and is now down to 32% of the whole, its lowest level on record.”

Church programming: * A Simple Exercise to Help Your Church; * Inconvenient Truth No. 1: Nothing Works by Dan Bouchelle [both posts are required reading]

* “Nothing works. At least in ministry and missions (which are one and the same), there is no magic formula, no methodological messiah, no fool-proof program, no golden tablet or holy grail. … The search for a surefire method is really a violation of our core beliefs as Christians anyway. It is a rejection of the spiritual, personal, and incarnate nature of the world God has made. … God did not send a method to save the world. He sent his son. He did not send a formula for evangelism or church planting. He sent his Holy Spirit. God did not give us a systematic theology or ecclesiology. He gave us a library of stories, songs, poems, wise observations, letters, and visions about the myriad ways he has worked throughout time to reclaim and restore his reign over humanity.”

* “Every church can learn a lot about the way it does ministry by doing this simple exercise: Take your church calendar and ask, ‘If someone or a family of four participated in everything our church offers, what would their day planner look like, and how much would it cost financially?’”

Facebook: * Facebook Just Switched Your Default E-mail Address; * Facebook Quietly Unveils ‘Stalking App”

* “Whether you’ve noticed or not, you have a new primary e-mail address listed as your Facebook contact, and most likely it’s an address you’ve never used.”

* “Facebook on Monday appeared to have quietly unveiled a new feature designed to let people see which Facebook users are nearby at any given time. By Tuesday, however, the feature seemed to have been pulled from the Internet.”

Grammar: This Embarrasses You and I* by Sue Shellenbarger

“Twenty-five years ago it was impossible to put your hands on something that hadn’t been professionally copy-edited. … Today, it is actually hard to put your hands on something that has been professionally copy-edited.”

Holy Spirit & the Christian: More Like Fruit that Grows than Fire that Falls

“… the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit is made evident in our lives not primarily through extraordinary divine manifestations but through the grace and strength of a Spirit-soaked inner character, which manifests Christ to others when we lay down our lives in love for their well being.”

Nonviolence & pacifism: A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Common Questions about Christian Nonviolence by Kurt Willems

“I believe that the New Testament clearly teaches that kingdom people ought to refuse violence in all its forms. … anyone on the spectrum between absolute pacifism and pro-militarism asks questions about how Christian nonviolence could actually make sense in situations that might arise. Common questions include: what about Hitler and what about defending the innocent?”

Parenting: Tools to Control a Child’s Technology by Somini Sengupta

“How you handle technology in a child’s life depends entirely on how you parent.”

Prayer: K. Rex Butts’ mini-series on the church and prayer is good stuff. Here are links: * Are We a Praying Church; * A Praying Church; * Becoming A Praying Church

* “… as heirs of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, we in the Churches of Christ have claimed to be patterned after the church we read about in scripture. Yet the church we read about in scripture was a church in which prayer was one of their four main practices (Acts 2:42).”

* “… these disciples went to God in prayer because they believed in the mighty power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them in the face of danger. It’s pretty simple. They prayed because they believed in God, not themselves. So this begs another question: When our churches are faced with challenges, is prayer the response? This is an important question because how that question is answered says a bunch about our faith and theology. … ministry that does not emerge out of prayer is an act of unbelief.”

* “So how do we become a praying church? … I would like to make a few suggestions.”

Rest: 7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath by Ron Edmonson

“… many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.”

Senior adults: How To Tell The Senior Adult is Still Alive by Joe McKeever

“Here are my top five ways to keep yourself mentally alive long past the age when most people have stopped growing and begun vegetating.”

Silence: Of Sin and Salvation: Why I Went to the Cemetery During Five Days of Silence by Chris Altrock

“To deepen this experience, I decided to visit a nearby cemetery while practicing this somber exercise.”

Southern Baptists & United Methodists: Baptists Chasing Methodists

“This marks the fifth straight year the SBC has lost members. … the denomination is not only experiencing decline but an acceleration of decline. ‘Based on the trend of annual percent change in SBC total membership, we are catching up with the Methodists, and will match their decline rate consistently by 2018,’ said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, in his blog. ‘This trend points to a future of more and faster decline …’”

this went thru my mind

 

Atonement: Thoughts on Penal Substitution [don't be put off by the title; this is "required reading" for all]

“I need God’s honor to be satisfied. I need the cross not only for the sake of my personal relationship with God but because I want to live in a world where the crucified are resurrected. Penal substitution is part of the rich mystery — just not in the oversimplified, canned version that has come to predominate our youth group-shaped church.”

Baptism: Why I Believe Baptism Actually Is ‘Essential’ by John Alan Turner

“Baptism isn’t the thing. Baptism is supposed to point to the thing. The thing is your faith in Jesus Christ. But sometimes people are like dogs. When you point to a ball, a dog usually just looks at your finger.”

Clutter: The Simple Guide to a Clutter-Free Home by Joshua Becker

“Consider implementing the four steps found in this Simple Guide to Keeping Your Home Clutter-Free.”

Depression: 10 Lessons From Two Days of Filming by David Murray

“I’ve just finished two days of filming various Christian counselors for the HeadHeartHand Media documentary on Depression and the Christian. .. Here’s what I carried away from these interviews.”

Fear: Breaking the Peek-A-Boo Cycle by Ron Edmonson

“The deepest danger of fearful leaders is they create fear-driven cultures.”

Forgiveness: 9 Forgiveness Links by Chris Brauns

“Below are 9 forgiveness links …”

Imagery: Five Bible Images You Probably Misunderstand by Joel Hoffman

“… we get a better sense of the original beauty and intent of the Bible by moving past a naive understanding of the words to the metaphors that they represent.”

Jobs: Who Really Creates Jobs? by Nick Hanauer

“Business leader, Nick Hanauer, presented … [this] speech at the TED conference. … Hanauer, a very successful business owner/creator, argues that business owners don’t create jobs. … But, if not them, then who does create jobs in our nation?”

Kingdom: Subversive Kingdom: A Conversation with Ed Stetzer by Trevin Wax

“What are some ways Christians commonly misunderstand the nature of God’s kingdom? Why is it important that we get this right?”

Margin: * How to Create More Margin in Your Life by Michael Hyatt; * A Healthy Schedule by Joe Thorn [both of these posts are required reading]

* “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin.”

* “I’ll skip the details and just say that it became evident that I was doing too much, resting too little, and had allowed boundaries between work and family to weaken. This made me less effective at work and at home. It wasn’t just that I was working too hard, but that I had also started listening to the devil’s lies.”

Meetings: Make Meetings Amazing by David Staal

“Consider four “pieces” to meetings that could bring about major changes in your church, community, or even the world.”

Small groups: * Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups by Thom Rainer; * The Five Deliverables of Small Groups by Thom Rainer

“… there are … challenges and obstacles that hinder transformation in and through small groups.”

“For a church to have transformational small groups, it must first recognize how its small groups will equip participants for the mission of God and the cause of Christ. Today I examine how the activity of community within the context of small groups results in transformed lives.”

Worldliness: “Worldliness” According to Paul by Tom Gombis

“It seems to me that the parallels between the “worldly” Corinthian community dynamics and contemporary American tribalized evangelicalism are endless.”

praying for a change (48; conclusion)

 

While the Change Your Heart & Life (CYHL) blog tour continues through May 27, today’s post marks the conclusion of my portion of the journey on this tour. To those who have enabled my participation in this tour I says, “Thank you very much for this has been a blessing to me!”

This has been quite a ride, hasn’t it? Over the course of the past forty-eight days, we’ve looked at a great many of the occurrences of the phrase “change your heart and life” in the Common English Bible. Invariably, the word “repent” has been the word of choice for English Bible translators for years to convey the thought of Scripture in these texts.

However, the word “repent” can be so easily misunderstood these days. Or, perhaps even more frequently, that word simply “bounces off” of us as we wall it off from our hearing it deeply. And so, I for one, am elated to not only see a contemporary English translation of Scripture boldly attempt a fresh way of communicating God’s will to us, but to succeed so well in giving us a spot-on definition of exactly what it means to “repent,” namely to “change your heart and life.”

As we’ve looked at these passages that call for radical change on our part, change wrought inside and out, we’ve attempted to do so with humility, transparency, simplicity and prayer. My prayer today is that God has used these moments in relevant and practical ways to assist you in your ongoing, daily conversation with, and living for, him. May the change in my life and your mine, to the glory of God, never stop. And so, may our prayers continue.

praying for a change (47)

 

The people were burned by intense heat, and they cursed the name of the God who had power over these plagues. But they didn’t change their hearts and lives and give him glory. (Revelation 16.9 CEB)

God,

I know literal, intense heat melts things. Even rocks melt and become lava.

But there is one thing that cannot melt: a heart and life hardened against you and personal change.

Lord, I fear fire. But I fear having a heart hardened against your development and transformation of me far, far more.

Deliver me from evil; all of the evil within me.

May my heart melt daily for you.

Amen.

praying for a change (46)

 

The rest of humankind, who weren’t killed by these plagues, didn’t change their hearts and lives and turn from their handiwork. They didn’t stop worshipping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can’t see or hear or walk. They didn’t turn away from their murders, their spells and drugs, their sexual immorality, or their stealing. (Revelation 9.20-21 CEB)

 

God,

How is it you made me and yet I often seem determined to try and remake you into my own image?

I must be off my rocker to think I can downsize you or remake you into my own image so that the new “you” accepts my every , unholy, worldly desire.

May I not cast my cravings and worship them, but cast away my cravings and worship you!

I want anything and everything that takes your place in my life to be removed.

Whether you start with my hands and my handiwork, or with my heart and my heart disease, open my eyes and ears to see, hear, and identify the deaf, mute, and blind gods I worship that I stop and flee from them.

Amen.