Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today's thought...from Emily Dickinson

"They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse." --Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Faith like a child? -- Part 2

Even as a grown-up, Jesus loved to be with children. Have you ever noticed that some grown-ups love to be around kids, and some people don’t? Jesus loved to be with children. During his three and a half years of ministry as an adult, we see Jesus giving an amazing amount of priority to ministry to children. Jesus talks with children, something only parents and grandparents usually did in that culture. Jesus commends the faith of little children, who in that culture were sometimes considered unable to truly embrace religious faith until they were almost teenagers.

Not only that, but we see Jesus blessing children. We see Him feeding them. We even see Jesus using a little boy’s sack lunch to feed the multitudes and send 12 hefty baskets full of leftovers to help feed others.

Beyond that, we see Jesus healing boys and girls who are demon-possessed and curing others who are sick and dying. He even resurrects a 12-year-old girl who had just died and an older boy who had died a few hours earlier.

In his preaching and teaching, Jesus said that children are a strategic, essential part of his kingdom in heaven and on earth. In so many words, Jesus told his disciples, “Listen! My kingdom belongs to kids!” Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you become like a little kid, you can’t even get into My kingdom.”

What is Jesus talking about? Well, what are kids good at doing? They’re good at receiving. When you’re a small child, your mom and dad give you some food. What do you do? You receive it. Your grandparents send you a birthday card with 5 shekels in it. What do you do? You receive it. God gives you a sunny day to go outside and play. What do you do? You receive it.

The same thing applies when it comes to God’s kingdom. Can you work really hard to get a part of God’s kingdom? No! Can you be good enough, for long enough, to get a part of God’s kingdom? Again, no. Can you pay lots of money to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. That’s what grown-ups would try to do. Jesus says that’s not the way to get into My kingdom. My kingdom isn’t like that at all. To get into My kingdom you have to get down lower—humble yourself—and trust Me.

What do you have to do to get a part of God’s kingdom? That’s right. You have to receive something. Or, specifically, Someone: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, creator of heaven and earth, the One who decides how life—real life—works. And it works in some amazing, sometimes counterintuitive ways.

*****

Granted, some claim a small child’s belief in God doesn’t really count. But that’s not the case. The apostle Paul could say to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV): “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

True, children can’t understand everything they’re taught. So? There is nothing wrong about a child’s inadequate concept of God or of the Christian faith. After all, 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) says: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” The Bible doesn’t criticize a child’s way of thinking. The One who made us knows us.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Only four months until Christmas

I’ve been thinking about Christmas a lot lately. No, I’m not worried about what to buy my wife, my three grown children, my two younger children, and my two small grandchildren. Instead, I’ve been wondering why it’s often so easy for people to stop believing in Jesus when they “grow up” and “outgrow” the true meaning of Christmas. I’ve been deeply concerned about how aggressively some ridicule the whole idea of child-like faith. And I’ve been thinking about what it must have been like for Jesus 2,000 years ago.

In complete contrast to the Messianic expectations of the ancient Jewish people, Jesus Christ didn’t come out of nowhere riding into Jerusalem as a conquering hero. Instead, he entered this world in a most unexpected way: as an infant child. Have you ever thought about what Jesus did the first 10 or 15 years after his birth? That’s right: He was a boy. Why in the world would Jesus, God’s Son, creator of the heavens and earth, want to be a kid all those years? Wasn’t that a waste of time? No. Absolutely not. First, it was fun being a kid! Jesus got to play with other children.

Have you ever noticed that grown-ups sometimes worry too much and don’t have enough fun? I think Jesus invented a special plan so that, even though he was God, he could be a kid.

Ultimately, of course, Jesus became a child for a much bigger purpose. He entered our world as a child so you and I could become like little children and enter his world. We enter his world by being adopted into his family. That’s not all. We enter his world in order to become active members of his Church and to make an eternal difference by joyfully and willingly serving in his kingdom.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Faith like a child?

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing more than a dozen 3rd to 6th graders. Each child sat on a “hot seat” and answered five questions. The first four answers were easy: name, grade, number of siblings, and how many years they’ve gone to church. The fifth and final answer was a little tougher: talk about when it’s hard for you to trust God. I was amazed at their responses. First, they had a much shorter list of reasons than adults usually do. Second, several of the children honestly and sincerely told me, “It’s always been easy for me to trust God.” You should have seen the smiles on their faces.

What could possibly ruin such wonderful, child-like trust in God?

Sadly, it’s very possible for a child to grow up in a faith community, learn lots of Bible stories, sing lots of wonderful songs, memorize plenty of Scripture verses, say all the right things, look good—very good—and yet lose his or her faith.

Sometimes, it’s the individual’s own choice.

Sometimes, however, it’s because of the sinful, terrible choices of adults the child should have been able to trust.

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that anyone who repeatedly or severely harms a boy or girl or young adult by sinning against them—physically, psychologically, socially, sexually, or spiritually—is in grave danger of God’s judgment. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, verses 5 and 6:

5 And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is
welcoming me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me
to lose faith [or be harmed by sin], it would be better for that person to be
thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck (NLT).

Believe me, ancient Jewish men feared drowning above all else. Even experienced fishermen like Peter and Andrew, James and John were scared to death of drowning. Sure, some like Peter could swim. But that wasn’t a given. There certainly was no Michael ben Phelps back then. Even if there were, imagine a judge ordering a crew of Roman sailors to take you 10 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea, tie a 100-pound milestone tied around your neck, and send you to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker.

Peter and his fellow disciples shuddered at the thought. It should make us shudder too. Why? Because Jesus warns each and every one of us that such a fate would be much better than causing a child to lose his or her faith in Jesus Christ.

The point Jesus is making is crystal clear: Don’t let your attitudes, your words, and/or your actions soil or steal the God-given faith of a child.

But perhaps Jesus’ warning should also cause us to think of other smaller ways we can cause children to begin to lose faith—by our critical attitudes, hypocrisy, self-centered living—anything that doesn’t truly reflect Christ-like, child-like kingdom living.

I’m not talking about being perfect. Instead, I’m saying that a child’s faith grows, not diminishes, when an adult apologizes to the child for, say, losing his or her temper.

What’s your story? Did adults build up or wreck your God-given faith as a child? I invite you to tell me your story.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Billy...what if?


I don’t normally post banner advertisements on my blog, and this certainly isn’t a paid commercial. Instead, it’s simply a reminder to check out the trailer for Billy, which tells the dramatic story of how Billy Graham almost lost his faith in Jesus Christ. What if he had lost that struggle? The truth is, everyone has a story — and millions of those stories haven’t turned out well — yet. Whatever your story, I encourage you to see the movie and read my book. Your story isn’t finished. Who knows? Perhaps God will use you to build up the faith of others in an amazing way. God didn’t call you or me to be Billy Graham, preaching to millions. But God does want to use us to help shape other people’s stories for good, for his glory…

Friday, August 15, 2008

If God Disappears... the website

The If God Disappears website is now live.

For more information about losing--and finding--your faith in God, the Church, Christians, and the Bible, head on over to http://www.ifgoddisappears.com/. You'll find a Q&A with David Sanford, recommended resources, a free sample chapter, audio clips from one of David's conference seminars, and much more.

Mike Hamel

My friend Mike Hamel was diagnosed with cancer this summer. He gave me permission to share with you one of his blog posts from the week after the diagnosis:
I believe in God and the after life, even though I have more questions about both. I’ve rejected a lot of the metaphors used to describe Christianity as self contradictory but I still believe in the reality they inadequately try to portray.

A cancer diagnosis is like being told there’s a cliff paralleling the path you’re on. At some points they are very close together. You could fall off or you could travel for miles. When I look toward the cliff—in the far distance of my current perspective—I don’t expect it to drop off into oblivion or perdition. I think there’s another realm of existence beyond the edge.

I’m not ready to fall off the cliff—not today—but I’m not afraid of it.

I still have no sense of the nearness of God in all this. He has been silent for a long time, or speaking a language I don’t understand. He could talk to my soul or my mind or my emotions, or all three. I think I’m open but that doesn’t mean I am. Self deception is part of the human condition. I do expect some spiritual insight to come from this physical ailment. That’s where I’ve set my gaze for now, the spiritual
horizon.

* * *

“Narrow are the powers that are spread through the body, and many are the miseries that burst in, blunting thought. Men behold in their span but a little part of life—then, swift to die, are carried off and fly away like smoke, persuaded of one thing only: that which each has chanced on as they are driven every way. Who, then, boasts that he has found the whole?” -Empedocles
You can read more about Mike's journey through cancer treatment--as well as his thoughts on life, religion, and more--on Mike's blog.
* * *
What's your story? You can post a comment or write to me anytime at ifgoddisappears[at]gmail[dot]com.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Billy Graham

Not everyone experientially loses his or her faith. But everyone has faced--or will face--crises of life and faith. These pivotal times are part of each person's spiritual journey.

No Christian is exempt.

Not even Billy Graham, who suffered a profound faith struggle in the late 1940s, shortly before his evangelistic ministry captured worldwide media attention. This largely unknown part of his life story is an integral part of the movie Billy, a new movie coming out this fall. Billy is about Billy Graham’s early years, leading up to his crisis of faith (and subsequent decision to trust God and God’s Word by faith no matter what).

I encourage you to watch the trailer especially the closing minute about Billy’s crisis of faith.