Tag Archives: faith

Faith in A Plan

One of my favorite type of books is the one where the main character has a plan and the audience is left out of it.  We observe, like the other characters, the preparation, and execution of a plan that looks ridiculous. Some even look doomed to failure. Then, at the last moment, a final piece falls together and everything is resolved. The great plan is revealed and the audience is stunned.  There are many examples of this in films like Now You See Me and The Illusionist.  My favorite literary example though is Sherlock Holmes.

Over several stories, we come to trust in Sherlock’s amazing analytical skills. Instead of watching things unravel with fear or concern, we are excited to see how he will pull all the details together, knowing that it is basically impossible for him to fail.

I wonder if this is how it was for the disciples as they watched Jesus do his work. I’m sure his actions seemed bizarre at times. He seemed to wander around with an agenda no one else could recognize. He didn’t even heal people the same way every time–sometimes a word, sometimes they would have to do something, sometimes he made mud and covered their eyes, and so on. Any time they felt they had him pegged, he would do something surprising.

The worst surprise of all was his arrest and crucifixion.  Though Jesus warned them, this did not seem to make sense at all. They were broken and lost–Jesus (or their idea of him) had completely failed them.

Perhaps you feel the same way. Maybe you thought you understood how God worked, but then he did something surprising or allowed something painful to happen or continue. Suddenly, when you thought you were in the know, you realize you don’t actually know what is going on. You feel betrayed by the One you were following so diligently.

I know I have. Surprisingly I thought that if I played my part well, then God would play His. I prided myself on being one of those who “understood” God–who knew how to please him. I did not see that, in reality, my obedience was my way of trying to control God. And God will not be controlled.

When my father died without making a choice for God, my world was shattered. I had prayed, I had shared the gospel, I had done my part and it seemed God did not do his. My father had a heart attack–his final reaction was fear and swearing. He died in the ambulance next to strangers. I don’t have words to explain how much this tears my heart apart. Since the moment I became a Christian as a teenager, I had envisioned what it would be like when my Dad became a believer. But it did not go as planned. I spent months wrestling with God about the possible culmination of one of my worst fears.

At the end of it, I decided to trust that no matter what God is good. I decided to believe that even though it seems God did not care, that He loves my father more than I do. I am choosing to believe that there are things going on that I can’t see.

This speaks to me in the various random things that occur that seem nonsensical. Philosophers argue that chance rules the universe–there is no meaning in the chaos. This is where we can speak our anthem of faith. We trust that somehow all these random events (like the unraveling of even negative events in the movies and books we love) somehow will work together in the end for an ending we couldn’t imagine.

This means we must release our normal, God-given need for resolution for every situation. There will be times when we cannot make sense of things. As Christians, a  large part of our message is about how God can turn things around. Our Christian movies like Facing the Giants and God’s Not Dead have decidedly happy endings for Christians.  However, we know this is not always how things work.  Movies and books like Shusaku Endo’s Silence accurately depict the challenges believers face when there seems to be no point to the suffering, and God seems silent.

Scripture beautifully shows us both–the rejoicing in seeing things amazingly resolved and the lament when we do not. Hebrews 11 reminds us that faith is celebrated when people choose to believe, no matter what the results are.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection.

[Notice the switch here]

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (vs 32-40)

This second grouping of stories tells of people who “did not receive what is promised.” They did not give up faith though and the author of Hebrews lets us know that God has a plan. Our job is to trust His plan.  We are allowed to lament (the psalms demonstrate this without a doubt), but, we must continue to believe. One day, we will get to see the end of the story and what a surprise ending it will be! I have a feeling, it will be one that we will be glad we did not miss!

Unwilling Adventurer

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Fear drove me to God. It wasn’t fear of Hell or death since they didn’t seem real to me. I was afraid of life. Success scared me because I was certain I wouldn’t be able to keep it up, and failure scared me as the true revelation of my lack of abilities. Though I was only 16 years old, fear completely crippled me.

You wouldn’t guess it from looking at me at that time. I was a straight-A student, clean cut and not making too many horrible decisions. Nevertheless, underneath the surface, I lived in agony of messing up.

I see this same fear in this generation.  As a high school English teacher, I have seen a shift in students who can’t wait to get out on their own to students who are scared to take steps of maturity. A large part of this has to do with our online world where everyone sees our mistakes. The solution to this though is to revive the love of adventure.

Bilbo’s Wretched Adventure

There is no better place to begin than with the quintessential tale of an unwilling adventurer —Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Bilbo is quite content in his happy little hobbit hole. He has his food and his routine. Then Gandalf, who sees something in Bilbo that Bilbo would never have imagined, chooses Bilbo for an adventure.  This comes in the way of a motley group of dwarves intent on rescuing their treasure from a dragon. To accomplish this, they need a thief. Bilbo is both mesmerized by their tale and appalled. It isn’t until he overhears them speaking disparagingly about him that his pride is offended.  He tries to prove he would actually be a good burglar when Gandalf steps in saying:

“Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet.”

The next day, when Bilbo Baggins sets out on his own “wretched adventure”, he is initially immobilized by his lack of creature comforts.


“I’m awfully sorry, “said Bilbo, “but I have come without my hat, and I have left my pocket-handkerchief behind, and I haven’t got any money. I didn’t get your note until after 10:45 to be precise.”

“Don’t be precise,” said Dwalin, “and don’t worry! You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end…”

The Journey that Transforms

The first few days are quite miserable for Bilbo, but it isn’t long into the journey that Bilbo has an opportunity to prove himself. This is just the beginning though.  Bilbo follows what Joseph Campbell has titled the hero’s journey. This archetype is repeated throughout all the best heroic journeys like Star Wars and Harry Potter. It starts with a call into a new world or journey. As the hero progresses, they find a mentor to help guide them and they face challenges that increase in intensity until they face the greatest challenge of all. A unique part of this journey is the stage titled the abyss. Here the hero must face his or her greatest fear. It represents a testing unto death. It is here though that the true work of transformation occurs resulting in a rebirth. The final stage is the return home transformed.

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Bilbo’s greatest challenge (abyss) is surprisingly a moral battle instead of a physical battle–he has to choose what is right even though he knows he will be misunderstood. He goes home a changed hobbit–one no longer afraid of adventures and one more confident in himself.

The Believer’s Journey

We undergo a similar journey as believers. When we choose to follow God, we make a choice to leave our ordinary lives behind. We might, like Bilbo, be unwilling adventurers, afraid of giving up our creature comforts for the rigors of the road, but we too have been marked by one who knows us better than we know ourselves. We can trust that his choices are correct. We will struggle, but we shouldn’t be afraid. Joseph Campbell notes  “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Our points of greatest challenge are the places of greatest change and growth.

Our journey’s purpose isn’t to rescue a literal treasure from a dragon, but we metaphorically rescue the truth of who we are from the guardianship of the original serpent. Like Bilbo, we must find ourselves in the testing. Bilbo could not have been transformed unless he stepped up to each challenge. We too are invited to a similar battle though ours look quite different. We won’t fight giant arachnids, outwit elves and dragons, or rescue our friends from doom. Instead, we confront our own challenges, handpicked to slough off the extraneous and reveal the treasure within.

Choosing to Journey

If Bilbo had refused to go on the journey, the story would have been completely different. He himself would have remained unchanged, but the lives of those whom he saved would have suffered as a result of his absence. He had a part to play that no one else could play and one that ultimately led to the downfall of Sauron himself. All this depended on his being willing.

Those of us willing to let the journey do its work will have the adventure we were destined for. We must ignore the fear and choose to trust God who has planned it all.  If we do, we also will arrive in our true home, transformed and ready for eternity.

Why Christians Walk Away

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Lately, I’ve sadly observed Christian friends from my young adulthood turning away from their faith. I have even read an article about the Gungors, whose music I love, and their struggles with faith–Michael stating he has now become an atheist. It is hard to see people who previously served God with passion and faith now walking away.

How does this happen?

I think that at some point there becomes a discrepancy between what they think is truth and what they see happening in life. This difficulty in lining things up makes people feel like they are living a lie. Things they previously espoused with great enthusiasm somehow seem harder to say. Because we weren’t designed to live torn in two like this, two things can happen.

Two Responses to This Struggle

First, the person can turn off any dissenting thoughts and lock themselves into a view of the world that refuses to change or take into consideration the events of life. These people often quiet the voice of concern within them by saying they are living the true life of faith.

Or the person can just walk away from faith saying there is no way for the faith they have been taught to be consistent with the world they see. Instead of choosing their faith, they choose their experiences to define them.

Related Post: The Reason Why

The problem with both of these paths is neither is completely honest, taking into consideration our greatest hopes and fears.  This life can then be consumed by a quiet despair–things are not what they seem, and there is nothing truly solid to stand on.

We Need Boundaries and Freedom

We do well to live in a world that is defined and understood but also a world with mystery and freedom. We suffer in worlds too narrow to move or imagine, but we get lost in worlds with no boundaries or direction. The perfect image of balance is the garden of Eden. Here was an exciting world with endless options, but also with some boundaries.

Immediately, Adam and Eve struggled with both making their world too narrow when Eve suggests that even touching the tree will bring death and too wide when they take the step of disobedience. Suddenly, the foundations shifted and humankind was lost.

On This Side of the Cross

We stand now on the other side of this disaster, but also on the other side of the Cross. The Cross erases the requirement of the Law that makes our world too small, but it also clearly defines the world we are to live in, one of love and sacrifice. We spend our lives both resisting the desire to squeeze our lives into a mold of man’s religion and pushing the boundaries looking for freedom.

The true walk of faith walks down the middle. In this path, there is freedom but there are also guidelines. In this path, there are adventure and uncertainty, but there is also a guiding force that gives us hope in the difficulties. God’s apparent lack of involvement to stop the evil in our world does not fit well into a narrow religious worldview. However, in a broader sense, we understand that everything will not fit neatly into categories, and we will have to live with a lack of full comprehension. This keeps us humble.

It’s Easier and Harder Than We Think

When I am in the throes of suffering, I need to know that my God is real and brings meaning to my suffering. I also need to know that there isn’t always a quick fix or standard response to my pain. Where Christians have failed so mightily is assuming that our walks of faith should look similar to each others’. We narrow our faith down to certain requirements and hold people hostage to this. This act cannot be emotionally or intellectually honest and downplays God’s obvious love for diversity in the world.

In only one thing can I be absolutely certain–the Gospel of Christ. In everything else, I concede I could be wrong to various degrees. But this truth of God coming into our broken world and providing a way of hope for those who respond is something worth dying for. The man-made contraptions we have built around this truth can only be marginally important to me.

This Gospel is what keeps me truthful in heart, mind, and soul. It leaves room for things I don’t understand but gives me a foundation that I can build my life upon. This is something I could never walk away from, no matter what I experience in this life.