July 13, 2010

Bandwagon of My Own Uncertainty

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , at 11:53 pm by Tamara

This video cracks me up, and it’s so true!

I know I’m very afraid of offending people, particularly over what I believe about Jesus.  Sometimes the easiest way to avoid the embarrassment of someone getting mad at me is to speak with a shrug of the shoulders and an “I could be wrong…” attitude.

I really believe, deep in my soul, that God is worth going out on a limb for.  But I have a very hard time going out on the limb of “They might be offended.”  I want to talk with grace and humility, but I think too often what I call “humility” is just speaking with doubt.  It is not humble to be wishy washy about what the God of the universe has said, yet, somehow in the church we’ve become proud of our doubt.  Proud to say, “Look how humble and honest I am!  I’m not really sure about this God stuff, either!”  Rather than crying, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), we’ve become quite satisfied with our doubt.

I’ve been reading a book which talks about this:

We are so afraid of sounding overly certain and confident in our beliefs that it has almost become…an unwritten dogma that it is actually more godly for us as Christians to be unassuming in our expectations of God.  It’s now more spiritual to be uncertain of how He will perform on our behalf than to confidently proclaim what both we, and a dying world, can expect from the God of the Bible (Eric Ludy, The Bravehearted Gospel, p. 146).

It was doubt that kept the Israelites from moving into the land God had promised to give them, and Hebrews doesn’t mince words about what God thought about it:

Who provoked Him when they had heard?  Didn’t all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?  And who was He angry with for forty years? Wasn’t it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And who did He swear wouldn’t enter His rest, but those who were disobedient?  So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief!  (Hebrews 3:16-19, emphasis mine).

God certainly doesn’t get warm-fuzzies about our “honest doubt.”  My favorite line in the video is when Mali says we talk as though, “I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions; I’m just, like, inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty!”

Why would anyone want to jump on that bandwagon?  I’d like to say, loudly and with conviction, that I DO have “something invested” in what I believe.  In fact, I have everything invested in it.  And it’s not just my own opinions (that would be arrogant)—it’s what GOD HAS SAID.

The newborn church in Acts turned the world upside down with the Gospel in just a few years, and Acts is peppered with the word “boldly.”  They weren’t afraid to tell people about Jesus because they knew, without doubt, who He was.  Peter and John were threatened with their lives if they didn’t stop talking about Jesus, and they responded “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).  Paul asked the church in Ephesians to pray “that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should!” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

I want to talk about Christ in a way that is gracious, honest, and open–but I want to talk with conviction and power.  Because the story IS powerful!  God-forbid that I make it sound any less earth-shaking than it is.

April 27, 2010

Really, God?

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 10:20 pm by Tamara

Sometimes I really think I know where God is going with things.  His power is so obvious, His control over the situation so seamless.  Take the story of how God delivers the Israelites from Egypt.  God needs a leader, so He miraculously arranges for a baby boy to be rescued and adopted by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter.  I see where He’s going with this!  Who better to free the Israelites than Pharaoh’s own grandson, who just happens to be an Israelite himself?  It’s perfect!  Moses just grows up, becomes pharaoh, sets the Israelites free, and rules all of Egypt.  Isn’t it so amazing how God can put people in powerful positions in order to have them do His will?

Pause.  What?  Moses commits murder?  Pharaoh orders him killed?  Moses runs for his life, leaving his wealth, his power, his position?

What?

I’ve had some “what?” moments with God before.  I think I know the track He’s rumbling my life along, and then—WHAM—everything gets derailed.  Without warning, Moses goes from a life where he was probably learning political strategy, forging alliances, using wealth, and dreaming of how God might use him to deliver his people.  And then suddenly, he’s sitting at a dirty, dusty well in the backwoods, where no one respects him and he’s constantly looking over his shoulder in fear.  Everything is lost.  To add insult to injury, his solitude is cruelly interrupted by the jangling, jostling, bleating sounds of a smelly herd of sheep plowing their way towards him.  Not only that, but they’re being shepherded by the daughters of a pagan priest.  Great.

Moses watches them fill their water troughs, wishing they’d hurry up and finish so he can be left in peace again.  And then the shepherds come—big, burly, dirty men who start harassing the girls and shoving them away from the well.

Now, to be perfectly honest here, I’m not sure I would have done anything.  I can physically feel how depressed, worthless, afraid, and abandoned I would be feeling at this point.  All my big dreams of doing great things for God are gone.  The most important thing in front of me is a well and some idol-worshipper’s sheep?  I have a sad feeling I might have just gotten up and walked away.  What’s the point of doing something so small when I failed at something so big?  But Moses doesn’t walk away.  Exodus 2:17 says he did two things: “Moses stood up and helped them.”

Moses made a huge mistake in Egypt.  I can remember times I’ve wondered if I have too, and if I’ve completely messed up God’s plan.  Or sometimes it just seems like God has plunked me in the middle of nowhere for no reason.  But He still challenges me to 1) Get up, and 2) Do what He’s put in front of me (Ex. 2:17).  No matter how small it is.  No matter how far gone I feel.  No matter how powerless I feel.  I have no way of knowing what wonderful things God might do through my obedience.

I don’t always get God.  I “think” that I think in big terms, have big dreams, lofty goals, careful plans:

“God, couldn’t You make me president so I can DO something about this?”

“Oh, if only I was a famous movie star, I’d share the Gospel with everyone.”

“I can’t wait to be on the mission field so I can make an eternal impact.”

Those aren’t bad dreams, per se, but it seems like God doesn’t often work that way.  In my case, He’s taken me from being heavily involved in multiple ministries to working a retail job.  Really, God?  Are you sure?

Have you ever had one of those moments?  Ever felt powerless to impact anything?  Ever stared down at that exploding baby diaper, or at the piles of paper covering your desk at work, or at the five page study guide for that test, or at the notice about your layoff, and said, “Really, God?  This is my life?  This is what You’ve given me to work with?”  Don’t get me wrong–I’m enjoying life right now, but it doesn’t seem very spectacular, or like there are many life-changing moments in it.

“Really, God?  A smelly herd of sheep, and pagan shepherd girls?”

“Yes, Moses.”

In the end of the story, God’s plan was infinitely more incredible than where I would have gone with it.  A vision of God in a burning bush?  One of those shepherd girls becomes his wife, and saves his and his son’s lives?  Miraculous powers, signs, and plagues?  The entire Egyptian army being wiped out?  Wow.  But the really impressive half of Moses’ story starts with him just showing compassion and watering a flock of sheep.  Just like Moses’ story, I think the story God’s writing for me—and you—will be more incredible than we imagine.  And it, too, will probably start with obedience in a lot of small things.  We just need to get up, do what He’s put in front of us, and trust Him for the rest.

June 17, 2009

Wilderness

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 3:40 pm by Tamara

I wonder how Moses felt coming down from the mountain.  Talk about a “mountain top experience,” and then God sends him away.  How must have that hurt to turn and walk away after such a breathtaking experience of closeness with God?  Did he feel like his heart was being strangled, like he wanted to beg God to just let him stay?  And then he spends the next forty years, not leading the people to victory in the promised land, but wandering around aimlessly in circles.

I don’t know why he didn’t get resentful.

The moments when he can’t handle it anymore almost bring me to tears.  The moments when he wants to give up, or gets mad at God, or fed-up with the people.  I’m glad such an incredible leader was human.  I’m sobered that God didn’t step in and neatly fix everything so he could accomplish the goal.

Oh, wilderness.  My problem with wilderness times is I feel like I’m slogging my way through emptiness.   It’s not a great, dark battle, it’s just long, and dry and feels pointless.  God’s so quiet in the wilderness.  It’s not like He stoops down and says, “I’ve got you out here so I can teach you great things, and let me give you a glimpse of how I’m going to use this in the future.”  No, it’s just…quiet.  And dry.  And a lot of hard work.  A lot of plodding and very little sense of direction.  And the dreams that I can see, I’m afraid might be mirages of my imagination.

And then I start to wonder how I got there.  My confidence that God is walking with me wanes and I start to get worried.  Did He lead me here for a reason, or am I here by my own mistake?  Did I disobey, turn away?  How do I trust Him and keep walking when I’m scared it’s my fault I’m there?

I have a lot of temper tantrums in the wilderness.  Sometimes I stop in fury to kick off my rock-filled shoes and want to grab the rocks and throw them madly at God, wherever He is.  Sometimes I get so discouraged that I sit down and just cry.  Are You mad at me?  Is this my fault?  Or am I where You want to be?  And He’s usually very quiet.

Sometimes the wilderness takes more faith than the valley.

It’s the quiet wilderness that tells me if what I believe is just emotion.  Whether I’ll keep believing Him when He’s just quiet; keep pressing to know Him when there’s no thrill.  Whether I’m willing to work out  my faith, or if I just want it handed to me in neat, one-hour, experiential packages.

I want to know Him.  I want to walk with Him.  I want to push forward, and not settle for camping in the desert.  I want the promised land at the end, I want the crown, I want the “well done.”  I don’t have an insightful, tidy conclusion for this.  Probably because I’m still out plodding in the dust.  But I still believe.  And I think, even though the horizon line doesn’t look any closer, that I’m still walking.