Tag Archives: faith

The Amazing Story of the 27-Year-Old Youth Pastor Who Lives a Perfectly Consistent Life

This might come as a shock to you, but I have never acted inconsistently with my beliefs.

EVER.

Never have I ever once done anything that goes against my core beliefs.

Want to hear something equally crazy?  Neither have you.

Now you might say to me, “Wait just a moment, Tim.  I’ve heard you describe yourself a conscientious consumer; someone who works hard to buy fair-trade items and avoids supporting sweatshop labor.  But aren’t you wearing a Hanes T-shirt?” (Hanes was listed in the 2010 “Sweatshop Hall of Shame” by the International Labor Rights Forum).

“Why, yes I am indeed.”  I would reply.

“Well, isn’t that inconsistent with your beliefs?” you might ask?

“Apparently not,” I would reply.

Because, you see, if I did believe that sweatshop labor was wrong, I would live differently, wouldn’t I?  So when you heard me describe myself as a conscientious consumer, evidently I was being dishonest.

You remember that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”?  What if that was…you know…true?  Better yet, just imagine yourself living as a mute.  Add to that the inability to write, or sign, or pantomime, or otherwise convey your thoughts.  All you can do is live.  What will people conclude that you believe after watching you for a day?  A month?  A year?  A decade?  A lifetime?

Here is a list of shameful things you might conclude about me if you just watched me live for a while:

  • I don’t care much where products come from before they get to me.
  • I think my own leisure is more important than people.
  • It’s OK to say something hurtful, as long as the person you’re hurting isn’t listening.
  • I’d rather eat deliciously than eat ethically and healthfully.
  • I think most people are stupider than me.
  • Lust, anger, pride, and selfishness…really aren’t all that bad.

Apparently these are things I believe from time to time.  Someone might comfort me by saying, “Those aren’t things you believe, they’re just areas that you struggle to be consistent in.”  Well, I respectfully disagree.  I think I am consistent.  I think I live the way I believe.  Perhaps the only thing that is inconsistent in my life are the words I use to describe my beliefs.  Because when I call myself a “conscientious consumer,” yet buy sweatshop-produced items, I don’t live inconsistently; I describe myself inconsistently.  Let me give you an example from earlier in my life.

When I was in high school, I was punk-rock through-and-through.  Mowhawk, tattoos, piercings, chains and patches…the whole bit.  And of course, along with the punk-rock ethos, came the rallying cry of the punk-rocker: “I don’t care what people think about me.”

I used to love saying that, because it was “proof” that I was unaffected by mainstream society.  Only problem was that after making that statement, I would spend an hour (or more) in front of the mirror getting my hair to do this:

I wasn’t about to let the tuxedo take away my street cred.

But I wasn’t living inconsistently.  I was simply describing myself dishonestly.  I did care what people thought about me, and I lived in a way that proved that.  But I described myself as someone who didn’t. The inconsistency was in my description of myself.

Our actions will never be inconsistent with our beliefs.  Because our actions will always reflect what is going on in the depths of our hearts.  Consider what Jesus says:

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit.  If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit.  The fruit tells you about the tree.

You have minds like a snake pit!  How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded?  It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.  A good person produces good deeds and words season after season.  An evil person is a blight on the orchard.”

Matthew 12:33-35 (The Message)

Nobody lives inconsistently.  People only describe themselves inconsistently.  Jesus says here, in essence, that the things we say about ourselves don’t matter much when compared to the way we live our lives.

So, here’s where the rubber meets the road spiritually.  Watch this clip from thinker/theologian/activist/heretic Peter Rollins.  Skip straight to 1:41:

Make no mistake: your actions are your beliefs.  The way you live today will tell of your adherence to the doctrine of resurrection (among others).  Your words merely describe you either correctly or incorrectly.

Now, it could be easy for us to walk away from this devastated and hopelessly aware of our inability to reach any level of real holiness.  To this I say two things:

First of all, good!  It is only in these hopeless moments of clarity that we are made aware of the depth of our sin and our need for a savior.  Use the feeling of hopelessness to propel you into the arms of the One who offers hope!

Second of all, don’t get angry or discouraged without getting honest.

Live honestly.

Live your beliefs.

Let us become the people Christ calls us to be on the inside so that we no longer need to hide behind our faulty descriptions of ourselves; so that we no longer need to masquerade as people of good standing.  And, when our lives display that we believe counter to the Gospel, may we have the courage to say the words that will ring consistently with our brokenness.  Have the courage to say, “Today, I denied the resurrection.”

And then go out tomorrow, and refuse to deny it again.

-Tim-

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Airplanes and God’s Unwillingness

I don’t like airplanes.  Call me crazy, but there’s something about 400 tons of steel, suitcases, and human flesh that leads me to believe that it doesn’t belong in the sky.  Even though I’m growing gradually more willing to fly (thanks in large part to this book) it’s still difficult for me to feel comfortable on an airplane.  The door swings shut, my ears pop, and scenes from countless films involving air disasters flood my mind.  Remember that Uruguayan rugby team that had to eat each other to survive after their plane crashed?  That’s the kind of stuff I think about when I get in an airplane.

Pictured: My worst nightmare.
Suspiciously not pictured: People freaking the hell out.

I just returned from an 11 day trip to Chile with the high school students from our church, and I somehow survived the twelve-hour flights (each way, plus an hour layover in Lima, Peru.  It was a long freaking time to be in an airplane.)  But as is my ritual, I spent some time with God the day before our flight left.  I asked Him humbly to protect our flight and to bless our trip, and to get us to and from our destination safely.  As I was wrapping up my time of prayer, I snuck in a request, hoping to receive a quick response to put my uneasy spirit at rest.  “God,” I asked, “Can you please give me the assurance that the flights will be safe, and that I will return home in one piece?”  I shuffled from my seat, ready to wrap up my prayer time, when suddenly the voice in my head that I frequently attribute to God came back to me clear as day.

“No,” it said.

Wait.  What?  Why not?

Lately I’ve been asking God this question a lot: “God, if you’re so big and powerful, then why won’t you just _______?”  It sounds like a childish question for a pastor to ask, but it’s a question that rings in my head every time something doesn’t happen the way I want it to.  So, if God is so big and powerful, then why wouldn’t He just tell me things would be ok?  Looking at this situation retrospectively, I see now that I am indeed alive and well, and that my plane did not go down in a horrifying ball of flames like I had feared.

So why wouldn’t God just let me in on that?  All I needed was a little, “You’ll be fine,” and I would have been content.

But I got no such thing.

I thought about this for a while that night, and I pondered the possibility that I might die on tomorrow’s flight (statistically laughable, I know.  But a lingering fear for many nonetheless).  Why does it seem like God rarely gives me the assurance that I am looking for?

If you’ve been following me blog (or talking with me face-to-face) lately, you’ll know that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of suffering.  It’s an infuriating mystery to me.  Why must we suffer and, perhaps more importantly, why are followers of Christ called to suffer?  If we are called to suffer, you’d hope that God would at least give us a heads-up when we’re not going to suffer so that we can have peace of mind.

But maybe there’s something to learn about God here.

It came to my attention, in asking God for assurance, that He was unwilling to give me any.  I don’t mean this to say that God was arbitrarily opposed to giving me information or comfort.  I mean that my having this specific information and comfort was counter to His will.  He did not desire that I should have it.  His desire was that I face uncertainty head-on.

One of my favorite songs of all time is The Self-Employed Chemist by Norma Jean.  Towards the end of the song, there is a haunting refrain in which vocalist Cory Putman asks, “What if I have to lose?  What if I have to suffer?”  This is a question I return to often, and the very question God forces us to ask when He refuses to give us the assurance we so desire.

Anxiety is a longing to avoid uncertainty.  Perhaps herein lies our love affair with logically repeatable experiments and predictable outcomes.  While certainly not altogether bad, such desires for the repeatable are perhaps symptomatic of a deeper fear of the unknown.  We want to see the same sort of predictable outcomes in our lives.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  And apparently God doesn’t want it to.

We face uncertainty everyday, provided we chose to go on living for one more day.  Will I slip and fall in the shower?  Will I experience something embarrassing today?  Will I lose my job?  Will a loved one die unexpectedly?  Will I die unexpectedly?  Will I go to heaven when I die?  Is there a heaven at all?  Is there a God at all?  Do I really exist?

What do we chose to do in the face of the necessary uncertainty of life?  This is the question that defines the type of people we are; the type of Christians we are.  God’s desire, it seems, is not that we be certain about anything, but that we be faithful in everything.

I was forced to answer whether or not I would heed the call to lead students to serve God in Chile even if it meant that I may die en route.  I asked God, “Will I die in a plane crash on the way to Chile?”  God responded, “What if you do?”

What if I have to lose?

What if I have to suffer?

Every day is an agonizing opportunity to answer these questions.  Do we continue to progress, to move, to wake up, to love, and to hope in the face of potential loss?  If we truly want to live, we must.  And, perhaps, the more uncertainty we face, the more we truly live.

-Tim-

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I Shall Not Want Want

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

Behind John 3:16, this is likely the second most memorized verse in the Bible.  If not, it’s at least one of the most popular.  Just go to Google and type in “Psalm” and see which Psalm is suggested to you first.  (Spoiler: it’s this one.)

But if you would indulge me, I’d like you to consider how two words, appropriately affixed to this verse, can alter the way that we think about “wanting.”  Consider how your perspective changes when you read the verse like this:

If the LORD is my shepherd,
Then I shall not want.

If, in our mind’s eye, we allow this verse to become a conditional statement, it may challenge us to consider the relationship between our connection to God, and our desire for…desire.

Let me explain how this came about for me.

Last night I was laying on my couch, watching the news out of the corner of my eye, aimlessly fiddling with my cell phone, sitting next to my wife, and I slowly realized that I wanted something.  Food?  No, I had just eaten recently.  Water?  No, I wasn’t thirsty.  Did I have to go to the bathroom?  No, I just went.  Did I need to say something to my wife?  No, we had already debriefed our days with one another and were now winding down for the evening.  So what was it?  What did I want?  I looked at the TV, I looked at my phone, I looked at my wife, and it occurred to me that I was waiting for each of them to tell me what I wanted.  That’s what I wanted; something new to want.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Consider the annual announcement of the newest iPhone.  (By the way, I don’t own a single Apple product, something that has on occasion called into question my eligibility to youth pastorship. But I digress.)  Every year bloggers, news sources, and technophiles speculate and prophecy about the upgrades and updates that will come along with the next “revolutionary” device.  For those of you not paying attention, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S are…pretty much the same thing.

(Primary difference? The letter “S”.)

 

Nevertheless, every year the press line up to get a glimpse of the latest piece of hardware.  But why?  There’s usually a considerable delay between the announcement and the actual release, so it’s not as if anyone is going to walk out of there with a new iPhone in hand.  It seems as if people aren’t  lining up to get what they want as much as they’re lining up to be told what to want.  The desire is no longer the desire for something, but a desire for desire itself.  Perhaps the best business model in the world is not to create a great product, but to create a great desire.  (On a side note, I find it highly bizarre that the late Steve Jobs was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which teaches that the desire for material things leads to suffering.  Ok, I’m done ripping on Apple now, I promise.)

It’s Pavlovian in a sense.  We like to hear the bell because we know that it means food is on the way.  But unlike dogs, we soon find ourselves more enamored with the sound of the bell than with the food itself.

But lest you think I’m unfairly critical of Apple fans, I readily and shamefully admit to my own ever insatiable maw of want.  So I as I’m laying on my couch analyzing the desire for desire I sense inside, I begin to question my standing before the LORD.  Is He my shepherd?  If He is, then why do I so often find myself wanting something new to want?  Why do I make it a part of my daily ritual to check certain blogs and websites that try to sell me the idea that I need something?  Why do I watch the Superbowl on mute only to turn the volume up when the commercials come on?  Why does my heart race during the “Coming Attractions” before a film?  Why do I wander aimlessly around Best Buy looking for something that I didn’t even know existed so that I can hope to own it?  Am I addicted to desire?

Lest my rejection of desire sound too spiritually “Eastern,” I want to pause to recognize the importance that desire plays in the Christian faith.  Understanding God’s desire for us is paramount to any type of Christ-centered spirituality.  And our desire for Him is central to a theology of worship.  Human desire for relationship is a key component to Christian community.  Other examples could be given as well, but these shall suffice to show that desire is not wholly evil.

But western culture at large is hardly in danger of eschewing desire to the point of calling these truths into question.  Quite the opposite.  We are in love with our desire.  We celebrate it at every turn.  We allow it to dictate our identity.  So what is the call to the Christ-follower in a culture oversaturated with manufactured need?

The call, as I see it stated in Psalm 23, is to allow our desire for desire to set off a warning signal that we may be wandering just beyond our Shepherd’s immediate reach.  He is making us lay in green pastures and leading us beside quiet waters (which, in keeping with the shepherd/sheep motif leads invariably to a full belly!)  If we are near Him, what else is there for us to want?

If the LORD is our shepherd, then I suspect that we will find ourselves wanting less.  And as we walk with our Shepherd, we will find our needs largely met (always spiritually, and often materially) and we will certainly find that we have a decreasing desire to desire desire or want want.

So let us frequently fast from our desires long enough to discern what desires lead us in the way of our Shepherd and which lead us to more meaningless wanting.  And may we find that desire has a role in our spirituality; but it is not as central a role as our culture might have us believe.

-Tim-

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The Lost Art of Praying Angry

Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying with a soundtrack.  I like to pray with music in the background because it gives me something that helps to drown out some of the noise that I find otherwise distracting.  Here’s one of my favorite songs to pray to: Spoiler Alert: It’s just a dude screaming.

How can I feel comfortable praying to breakdowns and blast beats?  I found it difficult to understand myself at first.  Before I get to an explanation, let me back up a bit.

You see the first sentence in this post?  Allow me to truncate it to an equally true statement:

“Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying.”

Prayer is new to me.  Or at least it feels new.  The truth is, I’ve always hated praying.  It required me to slow my mind down to a submissive pace.  I hate that.  As such, I have grown to find prayer to be a nuisance to my otherwise busy and well-occupied spiritual life.  I even began to feel quite bad for the people who brought their prayer requests to me, knowing that my “lifting them up in prayer” would probably be something along the lines of: “Dear God, please help __________ with _________.  Amen.”  (And I’d usually be saying this in my head as they were talking to me just to get it over with).

Dear God, please tell these people to stop asking me to pray for them.

Recently I was encouraged by a local sage [read, “woman who works in my office”] to probe the reasons behind my aversion to prayer.  I had a long drive into LA recently, so I decided to dedicate that time to meeting her challenge by praying about…prayer.

My prayer began similarly to most prayers I’ve prayed in the past.  Praying about prayer, (or as I like to call it, “metaprayer”) is an interesting thing in that there really isn’t a formula for it like there is for so many other kinds of prayer.  And, as a subject that I rarely reflected on, it took a level of introspection on my part.  Following the direction of my office mate/spiritual director, I began to explain to God why I don’t like praying.  I tiptoed around the issue for a bit, still praying the way I’m used to, (i.e. “Dear Lord, I don’t understand why I don’t pray.  Please help me pray better.”)  But after a while I got frustrated.  Actually, I got angry.  After trying unsuccessfully to pray a proper prayer for a while, I just gave up.  That’s when I heard these words come out of my mouth:

“You know why I don’t like prayer, God?  Because I think it’s a huge waste of time!”

Suddenly, as if scales fell from my eyes spirit, I was…you know…actually praying.

Now I’m sure I’ve prayed real prayers before.  But this prayer seemed somehow different.  It was as if all of a sudden God was actually listening to me.  It was like the second I decided to take my “spiritual filter” off, God began to believe what I was saying.  This was the first time I could ever remember “praying angry.”

Let me pause because I’m sure that there are some who could misconstrue my attempt at honesty as irreverence.  In no way am I encouraging insolence or disrespect, especially to God.  In fact, if there’s something I’ve learned quickly in my journey of prayer, it’s that each prayer ought to begin with a humble recognition of God’s holiness (i.e. “hallowed be thy name“).  No, I feel quite strongly that I am endorsing exactly the opposite of irreverence.  When we pray, I contend that we show a lack of respect for God’s omniscience by muting our emotions, language, ideas, frustrations, etc as if He weren’t already aware of them.  When we run our lives through a filter before they reach God, we lose the ability to bring all things to God.  And yet this is what we do so often; attempt purify our prayers before bringing them to the God who purifies.  We scrub away any offensive ideas, harsh language, anger, bitterness, and then pray a spit-shined prayer, which, in my opinion, is no prayer at all.  How can we possibly “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2. Cor. 10:5) if we can’t bring Christ every thought?

If anyone is having trouble embracing this idea, I encourage you to read the Psalms.  You don’t have to look far to see people being brutally honest with God, even complaining (sometimes whining).  Some decent examples would be: Psalm 13; Psalm 22; and Psalm 74.

Sometimes the Psalmists even ask for things that we would consider immoral to pray for today like asking Him to break people’s jaws or kill people.  These are the “R Rated” uncensored prayers of imperfect people bringing themselves fully to God.

So why do we sanitize our prayers?  Probably through years of learning to “pray proper,” we have lost the art of praying angry.  But not just angry.  Praying happy!  Praying frustrated.  Praying tired.  Praying grumpy.  Praying hopeful.  Praying worshipfully.  Praying delighted.  Praying in anguish.  Praying scared.  Praying silly.  Praying imperfectly.  Praying clean.  Praying dirty.

Praying honest.

I’m not arguing against form.  So if you pray with the “thees” and “thous”, by all means keep it up!  As long as it’s real.  As long as you mean what you say.  As long as your prayers are uncensored.  Let God censor your prayers.  But if all of the dirty, grimy, day-to-day stuff that makes up our lives never makes it to God, then how can we expect Him to intervene?  How can we expect to show God to our world, when we’re afraid to show our world to God?

So I listen to aggressive music sometimes when I pray because it reminds me to be real.  It reminds me to be angry when I am angry, and to be at peace when I am at peace.  It reminds me to let my words be few, but be weighted with meaning.  And it reminds me to let God direct my words, thoughts, and emotions, but always as a result of bringing my words, thoughts, and emotions to God.

-Tim-

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Lies This Christian Tells Himself

I was tempted to title this, “Lies Christians Tell Ourselves,” but I’ve read too many Christians who seem far too interested in defaming the Church for whatever reason, and I have no interest in that.  But I don’t mind a little self-deprecation if it serves to make a point.

Here are some lies I’ve told myself recently:

“Worship is about the way I live.”

“I practice friendship evangelism.”

“My prayer is a constant conversation with God.”

If you’ve been in/around the Church for any extended period of time, these are probably statements you are familiar with.  I must confess that these statements are lies (at least when they are coming from my mouth).

I don’t worship with the way I live.

I don’t practice friendship evangelism.

My prayer is not a constant conversation with God.

So why do I bother to tell lies like this?  Probably the reasons are twofold.

First, to say such things paints myself in a powerfully spiritual light (as if those who are powerfully spiritual have any interest in painting themselves to appear so).  With these statements draped over me, I can feel comfortable in my spiritual intentions.  I begin to appear to be a real spiritual soldier who has surrendered every waking moment of my life to the noble pursuits of worship, evangelism, and prayer.  The type of man any Christian damsel would throw herself at in the hope that I am not so pious as to reject her affections in the name of asceticism.

Second, to say such things allows me the freedom of never actually following through on my intentions.  If I say that I worship with the way I live, there is no obligation to actually set aside time designated for worship.  Same goes for evangelism and prayer.  Nobody can hold me accountable on these items because they are no longer items; they are a “part of who I am.”  This creates a tremendous barrier of subjectivity through which I can hardly be called to account.  Were someone to ask, “How do you evangelize?” I can simply respond with the nebulous, “With the way I live my life.”  This deflects the question while throwing an impressive “flash-bang” of meta-evangelism in their direction which serves to confuse and astound.

Now, for clarification’s sake:

I do believe that worship ought to be a lifestyle.

I do believe that evangelism is most fruitful in the context of a relationship.

And I do believe that prayer ought to be constant.

In that respect, these statements are not lies.  But when I personalize these statements to refer to myself, they become untrue.  Because they do not (even on a highly subjective level) reflect the reality of my life.  The problem does not exist in these statements.  The problem exists in the infrequency in which these statements are followed up with intentional action:

Actively seeking out moments of worship.

Creating spaces in which the Gospel can be conveyed.

Practicing the discipline of frequent purposeful prayer.

What is the point of all of this?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the point is that I am ashamed of myself for claiming to so many things that I do not adhere to.  Or maybe I find myself frustrated in the comfort I find in painting my own spirituality as it is not.  Or, it could be that I wanted to write a blog post about how ashamed and frustrated I am with myself so that you would see me as spiritual without requiring anything of me.

Hmm…

-Tim-

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Why having a blog terrifies me.

Hello.  This is my blog.  This blog is called Faith Seeking Explosions.   The reason is because both “Faith Seeking Understanding” and “Understanding Seeking Faith” were taken.  And the next best thing beyond understanding, I suppose, is explosions.  But if you’re interested in that concept, read this book.

Now, on to something else.

What I am doing now is pretty scary for me.

Since I was 17, I have struggled with anxiety.  I’m 27 now, and I’ve grown a lot, but I’ve yet to outgrow it.  And nothing makes me more anxious than harsh, angry, unmovable opinions.  And I know that by putting my thoughts into writing and allowing people to read them, I am opening myself up to such criticisms.  It scares me.

But I guess we’re supposed to face our fears.  Or at least to continue moving in spite of them.  Or to spite them.  Or whatever.

So, here’s a place where my pounding heart and racing mind will tell my shaking hands what buttons to press in order to make my thoughts appear on the interwebs.

Hopefully you’ll be blessed as a result.

-Tim-

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