Faith and Worry

This kid has a theological pet peeve.

Actually, I have more like a million.  But tonight I will bring one of them to your attention.  Typically, I can’t handle cute Christianese phrases.  I shudder every time I pass a church sign that says “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”  It’s like fingernails on a chalk board.  Homonyms are tacky.  Rhymes are possibly even worse.  And there is little to no theological depth behind any of these little maxims.

As such, one of my least favorite phrases is “Too blessed to be stressed.”  Even worse is its evil cousin, “Too anointed to be disappointed.”  Three-syllable rhymes are even more unacceptable than one-syllable rhymes, and the theology here is crushingly bad.  There’s no other word for it.  Just bad.

For one thing, it’s horrendously smug.  When you paste on a self-satisfied smile and tell a struggling person, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!”, it sends the following message: I am a super-Christian. You are ungrateful and have no faith.

Disappointment in this life is a very real obstacle, regardless of how “anointed” you may be.  But when you say that you’re above stress and worry because you have superior faith in Jesus, it makes a very normal person feel very alone in their struggles.  Now in addition to the cloud of worry hanging over their head, which is probably very legitimate and justifiable, they have a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach and the nagging thought, “I’m not a real Christian.”

When we don’t allow people to feel their feelings, we lose a vital sense of transparency — and thus, community.  Honest communication shuts down, and we get the fake little plastic smiles as we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to make ourselves super-Christians — happy little robots who are too anointed to be disappointed.  And somewhere in the midst of all this pretending, we lose the entire point of the gospel.

You see, Jesus didn’t come so that we would never experience these negative emotions, but so that we would have hope in the midst of them.

I have heard people before use Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 as a strict command, as if a dark and angry Jesus is towering over us gravely shaking his finger in our faces and saying ominously, “Stop worrying! That’s what the pagans do.”  I have heard people reason, “Worry signifies a lack of faith…worry is a sin!”

It was a cool concept.  It made sense to me.  I eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and quickly agreed, “Yeah! Worry is a sin!”  Whenever I worried, I would slap myself around a little bit and anxiously repent, “God! I’m sorry! I’ll do better!”  And I would shove the worry into a closet and slam the door and paste on a fake smile, hoping that all that worry wouldn’t build up and come bursting out in a panic attack.  What kind of witness would that be?  What would that say about my faith?  I would be an ungrateful, un-anointed un-Christian, that’s what.

But then one day I saw Jesus’ words in a new light.  I saw a gentle, loving Jesus stooping down and tenderly cupping my face in his hand, saying in a soft voice, “Don’t worry, beloved.  I have it taken care of.”

At this point in my life, I truly do not believe that faith and worry stand in opposition to one another.  Rather, I see worry as a chance to exercise faith.  I do not believe stress to be a sin.  If you’re insistent on viewing it in a negative light, you could see it as a temptation.  But instead, I choose to see it as an opportunity: not to shove it in a closet or pretend it isn’t there, not to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a super-Christian, but to snuggle into the arms of the Savior and childishly, trustingly tell Him that you need help.

I’ve mentioned in another post, Dear Grace, that sin is less about doing something wrong than it is about a state of separation from God.  I’m open to correction, but this is the way I see it.  Jesus didn’t die because you parked illegally in a handicapped spot; He died to bridge the gap between God and humanity, to draw you back to Himself.  Following this logic, I would consider it more destructive to our relationship with God to pretend we’re fine when we’re not, than to allow ourselves to struggle.

The point of the gospel isn’t to ignore our brokenness; the point is to address it.  Salvation isn’t about denying our humanity; it’s about surrendering it to Jesus.  Don’t put Jesus off until you’ve got your act together; your messed-up-ness is the entire reason you need Him.

Don’t put contempt or condemnation behind words that are meant to be comforting and reassuring.  You don’t have to shoulder the burden with all the bravado of Superman.  There’s another way:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”


Dear Grace: On Wrestling With God

There is nothing more intimidating than being asked a deep theological question by a 13-year-old who looks up to you.  But there is also nothing I love more.  Sometimes I flounder a bit, and sometimes I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Tonight, in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant with the youth band playing Christmas carols, struggling to be heard over the noise, Grace asked me one of these questions.

“I just learned the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Was that…okay? I mean, is that a sin?”

Instead of answering, I simply asked Grace this question: “Have you ever wrestled with God?”

She thought about this for a moment. “You mean mentally? Yeah…yeah, I have.”

“Do you think that was a sin?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “If it is, I guess I’ve sinned a lot.”

“Do you remember from the story what Jacob said to God?  Why he wrestled with Him?” I asked. “He said he wouldn’t let go until God blessed him.  Sometimes we have to doubt before we can believe, and sometimes we have to wrestle with God before we can receive blessing.”

She considered this. “I feel like the concept of doubt has been showing up in my life a lot lately,” she responded. “My mom and I were talking about it the other day, and now you just mentioned it.”

I shrugged. “We all go through doubt.  Some of the greatest people of the faith are the ones who have wrestled with the hard questions. Try reading through the Psalms and see if David didn’t do some of his own wrestling with God.”

Long after the Christmas party was over that night, I continued to think about her question.  Is it a sin to wrestle with God?  I pretty much told her no, but do I act like that’s true?  I’ve done a lot of hiding the past week because I’m afraid to voice some of my frustrations.  So my Bible has sat in my backpack for a few days, sadly neglected, because I can’t seem to read it while ignoring the elephant in the room.  So Grace’s question made me do a lot of thinking.  And praying.  And wrestling.

So, Grace, if you ever get a chance to read this, here’s my answer.

Dear Grace,

It’s okay to wrestle with God.  Don’t be afraid of messing up by wrestling with Him.  Sin is a far deeper problem than just messing up, than thinking or saying or doing the wrong thing.  Sin is disconnectedness from God.  Sometimes we have such a tiny view of sin that we think it’s something we do, something that we think we can manage or fix, but we can’t.  The very second that humanity chose to turn away from God, we lost the beautiful intimacy with Him that we were meant to have.  Sin at its core is just the gap between us and God.  So sometimes I think we try to pretend that we have a relationship with God by doing everything right, but pretending can’t bridge the gap.  We don’t want to get into fights with Him because that must mean we don’t love Him, but that’s not the way real relationships work.  Real relationships don’t pretend like there aren’t problems or miscommunications; they work through them. They wrestle with them.

You see, sin is anything that keeps us away from God.  And if you wrestle with God, you’re closer to Him than you’ve ever been.  You’re making physical contact, skin on skin, looking Him right in the eye, saying that you’re not letting go until He blesses you.  When you grapple with the God of the Universe, you’re being more open and transparent and vulnerable than ever before.

But if you leave your Bible in your backpack and hide because you’re ashamed of your feelings, the gap just got that much wider.  God bridged that gap by sending Jesus to experience life the same way we do.  He understands our feelings.  And He’s big enough to handle our questions.

So I think it was okay that Jacob wrestled with God.  And I think it’s okay if you do too.



Norman Elrod on Transparency

By Norman Elrod

Its not weakness to be afraid of the battle.
Its weakness to run from it.

Its not weakness to make mistakes.
Its weakness to blame them on others.

Its not weakness to be a sinner.
Its weakness to ignore it.

Be open. Be transparent. Don’t lie to yourself, but instead EXAMINE yourself. See the sin that you don’t want to. As a fallen human, it is our tendency to ignore our sin, blame others, and to in general be a coward. But let’s strive to be honest real people, first with ourselves, and then with God and others.

I am a fool. I am a rash, impulsive, immature, and awkward stumbling fool. I need to be gentle, I need to learn patience, I need to control my temper better, I need to serve others more than I do myself.

I fail to do these things.

But pretending like I dont have issues in these areas won’t help me change.

Owning up to them and turning my eyes to Christ will.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(Romans 12:2 ESV)

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
(Romans 8:13-15 ESV)

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”
(Hebrews 3:12-19 ESV)

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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This Love

What then shall I bring you, Father, when you only ever wanted me? I can’t understand this love that asks nothing. Surely there’s something you expect of me. Isn’t love conditional? To protect myself I must earn it, for the facade I’ve built depends on this wall of pride.

Always feigning strength, now openly weak; always showing indifference, now visibly moved; always guarded, now completely disarmed; transparent and vulnerable, I am brought to my knees in brokenness before this all-encompassing love. As a loving parent’s thumb gently wipes tear stains from the face of a child, so this love washes over me, healing the scars of my past and making me new.

I have always tried so hard. I have made myself someone I’m not and have let my worth be determined by the opinions of others. I have lived my life chasing the unattainable, trying to reach everyone’s expectations. I have pushed myself to the point of breakdown to find their approval. I have given everything… everything but myself.

But this love does not ask of me perfection. It does not ask beauty or intelligence or talent. It does not ask me to do anything, but simply to be; it asks me to be nothing more than who I am.  It accepts me completely with all of my flaws and my faults and my mistakes. It wants me despite my insecurity and my hesitation and my confusion. It is beautiful in its simplicity…yet also challenging in its passion.

For while asking less, it demands more than I have ever given in any relationship. It demands all of me. It demands my heart.

This love asks nothing, and this love asks everything. Let go, He says, and I will hold you. Abandon your image; I will never leave you. Cease striving, for the work is done. Only give me your heart.

Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 12:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Walking in the Light

The first of many notes on 1st John — I camped out in 1st John for about 4 months, and those pages are so scribbled over with comments that I can hardly read the original text. There’s some powerful stuff packed into those verses, so here’s my first little commentary.

1st John 1:7 If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in the light signifies transparency.  Too often people interpret walking in the light as living the right way — as “walking in goodness” rather than “walking in transparency.” But it goes so much deeper than that! Living in the light means giving people an invitation to look at your life. People love darkness, not light, when they sin; they hide and refuse to come into the light because they know that it will expose their sin. But those who love God and do His will live in the light, because it shows that their lives are lived dia tou Christou — through Christ (John 3:19 paraphrase).  We tend to dismiss this whole idea of transparency because we don’t want others to see our sins and our struggles and our baggage.  So we put on what Casting Crowns calls the “Stained Glass Masquerade”: With walls around our weakness, and smiles to hide our pain.

But read the next part of the verse: we cannot have fellowship with others unless we get rid of these facades. Maybe this is why there is such a lack of unity in the church today. If we’re broken together, we can stand together. But as long as we’re hiding and pretending and refusing to be honest with one another, relationships will not develop. We will be divided, meeting together in body but not in spirit. And that, fellow Christians, is the death toll of the church.

Finally, we will only be purified if we are walking in this revealing light. Jesus’ blood can only cleanse us if we are open and honest about our struggles and our shortcomings.  So now this becomes more than an issue of privacy — it’s an issue of purity.  This is to be taken seriously; it’s not optional.  Transparency is vital both to your healing (purification) and the healing of Christ’s church (relationships and community).

So take a risk — be the first to truly step into the light. You will experience freedom like never before.

…and that’s just one verse out of the whole book of 1st John.

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 1:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Masquerade of Life

Written December 16, 2010.

Perfection once existed in the tranquility of a garden before the fall of humanity. Characterized by openness, honesty, and trust, the relationship between the first two people on earth was unmarred by false impressions. They were on the same level: both vulnerable, both unafraid and trusting. Yet in one crucial moment of painful self-awareness, they became “afraid because they were naked; so they hid.”

Thus began the Masquerade of Life: the desperate scramble to conceal our imperfections, our insecurities, and our weaknesses before anyone else can spot them. For milennia, the pattern has continued. We, like they, fear exposure; so we hide behind the safety of a mask, trading reality for a game of blind man’s bluff. We exist in an alternate reality, shadowed by the threat of rejection if we expose our true selves. To defend ourselves, we spend our lives creating and projecting the image that we want everyone else to see, when it is this very superficiality that makes our lives begin to crumble from the inside out.

Ironic, isn’t it, how feigning perfection lures us farther and farther away from that unattainable ideal? We all waste our time chasing the same thing, trying to impress the people who are trying to impress us, when if we all dispensed with the facades and reduced ourselves to the lowest common denominator, we would all find ourselves on equal footing. No one attains perfection with these masquerades; perfection is found in simplicity, which stems from transparency. As long as transparency is traded for image, the distant concept of perfection will remain beyond our reach.

But who will be the first to strip away the carefully crafted layers and stand, exposed and vulnerable, before the masked faces of the world? Who will be the first to risk judgmental eyes glaring through their open and transparent sincerity? I wish I could say that it will be me. But in all honesty, it probably won’t be. Because, like all of us, I discovered early on in life that vulnerability leads to rejection and embarrassment. I have learned along with the rest of the world that the only defense is to hide behind a clever facade.

Who will be the first?

No one?

And so it continues… the Masquerade of Life.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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