Christian Musings on Doubt on a Quiet Saturday Morning

Reading Among the Trees
Reading Among the Trees

While I watched the sun come up over the trees today I started my Saturday with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, i.e. a read through Facebook and Twitter. This is something I haven’t done much lately for various reasons, but today I came across this article from @BuzzFeed via @jessmisener who wrote about losing her “born-again-faith” in Jesus.1 It is a truly sad story, and all the stories I read like this are ultimately eternally sad. I have a hard time personally comprehending how a person comes to faith, or so they think, and then when doubt sets in (in this case through a world class education at Yale), they fall away. This article is basically the story right out of Matthew 13 of the parables of the seeds that were sown on the rocky ground.

13.20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

We have a great way in the church of explaining these situations away. Either they were never a Christian to begin with or they are going through a period of doubt and will soon return. [Scripture is clear that no one can just “lose” their salvation, so logic has either she never had it to begin with or her “Jesus phase” as she puts it, will reclaim her life again one day.]

What we don’t have a great way of explaining away are the challenges of the modern day church she so eloquently brings up through her doubt. The article has millennial DNA stamped all over it. A far too familiar story of a millennial who has left the church, and perhaps their faith, because every question can not be answered leaving zero doubt. They have an overall basic mis-trust of the church, and a highly skeptical view of the doctrine of inerrancy. [On another side note, apparently her masters did nothing but help fuel her skeptical view of inerrancy while my masters solidified my understanding of inerrancy. Though we did received similar degrees, mine is not of the Ivy League type and perhaps did not require me to question my faith to the extent Yale did hers.]

This article is a microcosm of what our modern day church faces, and shows how little we have accomplished when it comes to understanding this generation of doubt. It seems many I know who have left the church, and or their faith, think every single doubt should be answered, every question scientifically proven. Scripture never claims this, nor did Jesus throughout his ministry. This is where faith steps in. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, not the complete and total understanding of every doubt that enters the mind, valid or invalid.

The church certainly needs to find a way to reach the skeptical mind of the doubting generation while maintaining orthodoxy and sound doctrine. Holding on to our stereotypical ways of the 80’s and 90’s is probably not that way. Neither is trying to convince them of all their wrongs with a 10-step correction process that is one size fits all. Maybe it comes from the church living out Matthew 22.34-40. With this comes everything else.

My Late Top 10 Look Ahead for 2013

At the Crossroads
At the Crossroads

I purposely tried to take a break with my blog over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, but now I’m also having a hard time getting back in the groove of writing again. Habits are like that, you get into a routine, then drop it for a time and boom, it’s gone. I sat at my favorite crossroad recently (above) thinking back at 2012 and ahead to 2013, hoping for sun and warms from the winter sky.

New Year’s resolutions to me always seemed like the impulse buy at the checkout line, so I don’t set resolutions for myself, I try to look at goals for the year. Some small and easy, some near impossible. I started off 2013 by reading and finishing Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Geoff. This ended up being an incredible way to start off the new year, and is really now my word or phrase I want to live in for 2013, Does.

For years (maybe decades now) I have had a constant internal battle between faith and works, legalism and action, intellectualism and doing. Eventually, a while back actually, I came to the ultimate conclusion that it isn’t a battle for one or the other, but for one AND the other. It’s pretty hard to read the book of James and come to any other conclusion, but being a “doer” sometimes takes some work and effort. Sometimes, doing is “not doing.” For 2013 my goals have as many DO NOT do as it does TO DO.

My Top Ten List for 2013

1. Spend Less Time on Social Networking Sites
My goal really is to try to ditch Facebook in 2013. I’m about as sick of Facebook and all it has to offer but there are still a few people that only operate on Facebook, and they are the reason I haven’t left yet. I have some great relationships developed through social sites, but they are largely time suckers.

2. To Not Take Any Seminary Classes in 2013
Late in 2012 I conferred my first seminary master degree, a Master of Arts in Theology. This was to be the first in a line of “continuing education” in the formal faith setting. But it also comes with a price, and that price has overtaken my extremely strong desire to want to actively be in seminary classes. Mostly it has to do with time. Time it takes to read books I’m actively reading for church compared to books for classes. Time away from Deborah and things we want to do together this year, and my ability to be 100% fully engaged in my ministry work each day. As much as I love seminary work, it’s very hard to be fully engaged in people’s lives while having to spend every spare second studying when it’s a personal choice not a career choice.

Scott Fillmer's Master of Arts in Theology
Scott Fillmer’s Master of Arts in Theology

3. Write Shorter Blogs Posts More Frequently (this one doesn’t count)
This has been a goal of mine since I started my blog. The key to this for most bloggers is to give up on the perfectionist in you and just post. I use to think if it couldn’t be perfect I really don’t want to do it, now I’m more in the mindset of how much doesn’t ever get done that could be done because it can’t be perfect. Doing, not thinking about doing.

4. To Not Wear Socks
This one sounds easy, but is really going to be the hardest one, near impossible, for me after 40+ years of tradition. There are a lot of metaphorical and spiritual reasons for this one but I’ll let those hang for now.

5. Be a Doer of the Word Not Just a Theology Debater
This is my word of the year, so I kind of already theorized on this one (see what I did there), but this is also going to be one of my biggest challenges of 2013. The challenge being how to find those places to engage where I can be the most effective. One of those areas being my staff position at the church. For me, can I make my position as a “business administrator” one that engages others in love and discipleship.

Cornerstone and East Alabama Food Bank Food Drop 2013
Cornerstone and East Alabama Food Bank Food Drop 2013

6. Not To Read the Entire Bible Cover to Cover
I love this one, and it is going to be very freeing. I am going to finish my current canonical reading I started in June, then I’ll focus on a few specific books. I have probably read cover to cover now about 10 times over the last 15-20 years, but I won’t in 2013. Being a very systematic thinker I am still going to read the greatest set of books ever written, but instead of cover to cover, I’m going deep with a few specific books.

The ESV Bible, a Moleskine Journal, and a Diet Coke
The ESV Bible, a Moleskine Journal, and a Diet Coke

7. Read, Read, Read
I lost track of how many books I read in 2012, it was something like 30 or so. The last book I read in 2012 was Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus, and the first book I read in 2013 was Love Does (above). Both excellent books. In 2013 I’m going to continue to refine my reading process by reading those specific books that take my faith deeper. Books like Creature of the Word, When Helping Hurts, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Jesus A Theography, and a classic here and there like Leaves of Grass or The Hobbit.

8. To Not Forsake Spending High Quality Time With Deborah
This has always been a high priority for both of us, but that’s only because we make it a priority. The hardest thing about this is my ability to say no to good things, good people, and yes to Deb.

Deborah at IHOP for Breakfast
Deborah at IHOP for Breakfast

9. Take an Entire Week of Vacation All At Once
I (we) have never done this ever. For most of our married life Deb and I have owned our own business and when you own your own business you don’t get to take “vacation.” This year is our 20th wedding anniversary and celebrating 20 years of marriage deserves at least a week at the beach.

Sun Setting Over the Gulf of Mexico
Sun Setting Over the Gulf of Mexico

10. Love People for Who They Are and Right Where They Are
This is not a new one for me but also not an easy one. This is an ongoing, continuous, and gradually adjusted ability given to me by grace, only provided by Christ. And it is also how he loves me. To do this you have to drop every judgmental fiber in your being, and just love.

Project 365 [Day 291] Words for Love
Project 365 [Day 291] Words for Love
I have plenty more in my mind but those are the randomly chosen ten for this post.

Written on the Walls Behind Bars, Part 3

Written on the Walls Behind Bars

This is Part 3 of 3 in the “Written on the Walls Behind Bars” posts (see Part 1 and Part 2 to see the progression). The transition to the bars and then with “Love” written on the face of the father is pretty incredible to me. These shots were part of a larger shoot that day from these facilities in Uganda. To see more images from those days click here to see They are Hidden but Not Forgotten and The Challenge of Being Salt and Light in the Darkness.

How Deep The Father's Love For Us

We used this modern day hymn in our service this past Sunday and the lyrics were just incredible to me… the line “I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers” really puts an emphasis on God’s love for us. I know the song is about 10 years old at this point but still well worth reading the words below.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Hand Made Smocked Clothes and Gowns for Preemie or Premature Babies

Hand Made Smocked Preemie Premature Clothes

This is slightly off-topic for my blog (hence my need and reason for having a Sidenotes Category), but well worth some publicity to lovingly brag on my wife, Deborah. In case you didn’t know, Deborah is about the best seamstress I know (just check out her blog or her custom made items on the Etsy store), and her work is in the category of heirloom clothes, depending on the particular project she’s working on. She has made, and is making, everything from Easter (see Easter Order) and Christmas gowns (see here), to fun football dresses (here) babies and girls can wear to any worthy SEC game, though she doesn’t discriminate against any school. If you are looking for an incredible dress or gown, get in touch with Deborah for details.

All of this is custom made to order per each individual, and all is hand made one individual stitch at a time. The most amazing work I’ve seen come out of her sewing room lately are these preemie clothes I photographed above. While each ministry is different, specifically because God has gifted each one of us in totally unique ways, this work is over the top awesome. Deborah started making these hand-made smocked (the crinkled stuff around the chest area for the guys reading this post) preemie gowns and clothes for parents who would normally never get the honor of having something special for their own child.

You can’t tell from this photo, but these clothes are teeny-tiny. Deborah even included one for a boy, which most of the time parents never have any clothes for at all. It is just amazing to me to think that somewhere, some as of yet unknown parents, are going to be presented with one of these gowns to put on their baby, probably during a very difficult time in their own lives. For parents to be able to receive something like this (for free), of this quality, hopefully says to them, God loves you, and He loves your child as well, no matter what happens.

This set of preemie clothes was just shipped this week to a large hospital in Miami where the need far exceeded the supply. If you are at all interested in helping with this type of ministry work I am sure Deborah would be more than happy to talk to you about it. For today, it is my Photo of the Day, and quite a challenging photo to take at that.

What's Saint Valentine's Day Minus Commercialization?

So it’s Valentine’s Day again, and while I would like to say I go all out on Valentine’s Day, I usually do not.  Not only that, but I am also not a gift buyer for this day, and much of it specifically has to do with how commercialized every single possible holiday day has become.  There is no man alive in this country that has an excuse for forgetting this holiday, or any holiday, at this point, we have been bombarded since New Year’s that this day was coming.  I hate force buying something that isn’t really asked for in the first place, and is usually something over-manufactured for cheap pennies overseas (made in China).

So if you take away the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, where did the day come from and why do we celebrate it?  As is now standard in our post-mondern society, we have taken a day once commemorating a specific day on the Christian calendar and turned it into cheap plastic toys for lack of a better phrase.

Started in A.D. 496 by Pope Gelasius I (and then later deleted from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI), it was originally placed on the calendar on February 14th to “celebrate” the martyrdom of Saint Valentine (or Valentinus in Latin) the Patron of Love, which was actually around 14 different martyrs, not one specific person or saint. The total number of martyred saints is not completely known, and the reasons for their deaths range as well. First written about in Nuremberg, Saint Valentine supposedly was caught marrying Christian couples who were being persecuted by under Emperor Claudius in Rome (which was a crime). He was then imprisoned, where he also gained almost 50 converts to Christianity before he was executed.

So there you have it. Nothing to do with a box of chocolates, stuffed animals from Walmart, or pajamas from TV mail order.

Some may call it cheap, but I will make a public “Happy Valentine’s Day” wish to the true love of my life, Deborah.  I hope I can live out the remainder of our days together as the husband you expect me to be, always ready to show you the love you deserve.  Even though I didn’t buy you a box of chocolates today, I still love you very much.

Theology the Poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a followup post to The Pop-Culture Glenn Beck Theology article I published earlier in the week. I came across this poem earlier in the week by Paul Laurence Dunbar called “Theology”, and it struck me on multiple levels; it was hilarious and sad.

Paul Laurence Dunbar published his first book of poetry in 1893, a time late in the Victorian Period where poetry was not at its best and brightest period. Many of his poems were lighthearted and humorous, probably what drew me to this one.

a Poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar: Theology

There is a heaven, for ever, day by day,
The upward longing of my soul doth tell me so.
There is a hell, I’m quite as sure; for pray,
If there were not, where would my neighbours go?

Jesus, I need Your Love, Hawkmoon

Do we recognize how much we need God’s love in our life, or put a different way, how much do we desire that love that only God can fulfill? Our lives are so busy, we tend to just push away this desire or we may not even think about it at all. But even when we do contemplate God’s love, we can only express it in terms that a limited human mind can do (like below), in terms of things that are familiar, but it’s so much more than that.

I came across a familiar poem today that expressed, in worldly terms, how much one can desire the love of another, and it reminded me more of whether we desire God at least like this, or is it only this powerfully expressed for the things of this world? If we can express worldly love “like the hot needs the sun, like honey on her tongue, like oxygen, I need your love”, how much greater is the love God has for us? Without the desire for God’s love, and for His Glory, we are just about in the same shape as my widow pictured above, broken.

I have gone over the words below about twenty times now, it’s pretty powerful (even more when put to music), but how much more should we desire God’s love… probably more than we need to take our next breath.

I Need Your Love

Like a desert needs rain
Like a town needs a name
I need your love
Like a drifter needs a room
I need your love

Like a rhythm unbroken
Like drums in the night
Like sweet soul music
Like sunlight
I need your love

Like coming home
And you don’t know where you’ve been
Like black coffee
Like nicotine
I need your love (I need your love)

When the night has no end
And the day yet to begin
As the room spins around
I need your love

Like a Phoenix rising needs a holy tree
Like the sweet revenge of a bitter enemy
I need your love

Like the hot needs the sun
Like honey on her tongue
Like the muzzle of a gun
Like oxygen
I need your love (I need your love)

When the night has no end
And the day yet to begin
As the room spins around
I need your love

Like thunder needs rain
Like a preacher needs pain
Like tongues of flame
Like a sheet stained
I need your love

Like a needle needs a vein
Like someone to blame
Like a thought unchained
Like a runaway train
I need your love

Like faith needs a doubt
Like a freeway out
I need your love

Like powder needs a spark
Like lies need the dark
I need your love

I need all the love in your heart… and I need all the love in your heart…

~ Hawkmoon 269, U2

The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

I finally got back into the reading swing a few months ago and first on my list was a book that had been on my list for a long time, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.  This book, even after having finished a complete reading, is so monumental that it would require several more readings, at a much slower pace, to even begin to comprehend it’s value.  First published in 1746, written around the time of the Great Awakening when “affections” were running wild (many people would have a dramatic “religious awakenings” with loud wailing and moaning but not a true change of heart), this book must have been seen by the people of North Hampton at the time as quite a controversial book.  Today, The Religious Affections has the honor to be listed among the classics delivered by some of the greatest theologians, but if read in context of today’s culture, and viewed as being directly applicable today, it might be seen as even more controversial today than it did in the late 18th century.

Still, it’s truths are so relevant, it’s pious statements so profound, it tends to show how far we have come (or how far we have slid) from the “religion” of the Great Awakening. Where Edwards was once trying to discern true affections from Pharisaical outcries, we the church in the 21st century are similar to the 18th century church of North Hampton in some respects.  We have and show almost no true affection in worship to God, a breaking of the will by the heart, for a God who deserves the utmost adoration for every breath we take, and yet we posses more entertainment emotion (for lack of a better phrase) than any generation in previous history.

As the book opens, Edwards puts forth nine evidences that true religion lies much in the heart of the affections.  In seminary (of all places) it has often been said to me that a mature Christian needs both the head and the heart, both knowledge and true affections towards God.  If you are in the camp that uses “knowledge puffs up but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1) to excuse yourself from study you are missing half of what Paul is saying, and the same is true to those who only seek after knowledge.  Any surface reading of scripture clearly shows that God insists on both, and Edwards certainly agrees.  “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” [1]

In these nine evidences Edwards lays out his thesis and speaks directly to the church of the 21st century.

That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit,” and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion (Romans 12:11) and to “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord… serving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all thy soul?” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

While we certainly can claim we don’t have dull and lifeless worship services (in fact we can claim the opposite since our worship “production” can rival that of the Discovery Channel at this point), we can still have a lifeless and dull heart.  Paul in Romans 12 isn’t saying the dB rating of the worship should be vigorous, he is saying that “our hearts [should be] vigorously engaged” in worship.  John takes it one step farther when talking about the church in Laodicea saying that Christ utterly detests a lukewarm church (Revelation 3:16).

I would highly recommend The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards to anyone who might be interested.  It certainly was a challenging read, it wasn’t the most straight forward easy to read pop-Christian publication that tends to make the rounds today, but I wouldn’t expect it to be either.  Books that we fully understand from a quick initial read probably don’t further our understanding in the subject at hand and Affections is one of those pieces of literature that could be read over and over again.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, (Carlisle, CA: The Banner of Truth Trust, Versa Press, Inc., 1986), 30, 27.

Happy Anniversary Deb 17 Years Has Flown By

It’s is hard to believe but today, 17 years ago, my wife and I got married.  This particular anniversary was a little different since Deborah would normally be sitting in the next room on a normal day, and this week she is in Denver teaching a hand quilting class, and it just happen to fall on our anniversary.  So, Happy Anniversary Deborah.  I think this is actually the first time in 17 years that we actually haven’t been together on June 11th.

The time has just flown by, yet I can almost remember every day.  Anyone who says marriage is easy is crazy (or isn’t married) but I wouldn’t trade it for anything with you Deborah.  Sorry we couldn’t be together today, so in place of getting to go out somewhere nice tonight, I, of course decided to make a video for you of little bits of our 17 years together.

Really really hard to believe it has been 17 years.  Can’t wait to see what 17 more years has in store for us (which would be the year 2027, yikes).