Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are you really there, God, or are you a figment of my imagination?

It's kind of scary to admit it, but every now and then I wonder if God is real.  I wonder if the conversations I have with him are really conversations with myself.  Some people say that's what is happening.  For those people, God and the universe and awareness of what is happening around us are pretty much the same thing.

I believe in a God who is all-powerful, who is sovereign, who sets the rules for life.  He can do that because, after all, he created the world.  It's hard to believe that this omnipotent God can love me or even know who I am.  I mean, why would he?  I'm kind of messed up.

But then there's Jesus who is the exact image of the God.  If we've "seen" Jesus, we've seen God.  He does all kinds of amazing things, heals the blind, removes leprosy, casts out demons. Not once in the Gospels do we see Jesus refusing to heal someone.

And that makes it kind of difficult today when we ask and ask for healing or for God's intervention in a difficult situation, but it doesn't appear that God's going to do anything.

It's kind of weird to stand to the side, to be ill, and to watch other people healed.  Or to watch other people's lives being blessed by unexpected checks in the mailbox, happy marriages, children, grandchildren, whatever.  Why doesn't God answer everyone's prayers?

That's part of what makes me question whether or not God is there.  I mean, part of me always knows he is, part of me might be annoyed with him, and part of me just wonders.  It's normal to walk through these kinds of doubts, I think.  As we walk through these doubts, God strengthens our faith and helps us know him better.

One of my favorite authors, Frank Viola, addresses these kinds of questions in his blog titled, "The Forgotten Beatitude,"  in which he quotes Matthew 11:6, when Jesus says, "Blessed is the person who is not offended by me."

If you've ever wondered what God's doing, check this out.
Viola closes by quoting Romans 11, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33)."

Virus. Blah.

Wednesday has become my favorite day of the week.  My commute is an hour both ways, I teach for an hour, and then I'm done with work at 8:00 a.m.  I come home and grade or comment on papers.  Sometimes I plan lessons.  Sometimes I read.  Wednesdays are lovely.  Most of the time.

Yesterday I felt a cold coming on, and today it has arrived.  I feel well, blah.  My head hurts.  My throat hurts.  I'm cold.  I don't want to do anything, certainly not comment on 26 papers about the scientific consensus on climate change.

I thought perhaps writing would motivate me in some way, but I can think of nothing interesting to say other than some days are like this.  For all of us.

I think I will make another cup of chamomile tea and hope the Nyquil kicks in.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Spiritual Inventory

The Men's Ministry team asked Duane to speak at a breakfast on Saturday morning, and they gave him a topic: Spiritual Inventory.   He told me this at breakfast on Wednesday morning, and so we started brainstorming together as we waited for our eggs.

Most of the time, when we hear the phrase "spiritual inventory," we think of a check-off list.  How many times did you do your devotions last week?  How much time do you spend in prayer? Did you go to a Life Group this last week?  Did you attend church?  How many chapters of the Bible did you read?  Have you shared your faith this week?  

I Googled spiritual inventory and found a couple of tests you can take online.  Of course there would be check-off lists of online tests that you can take to assess your spiritual health. asks, "Have you memorized scripture verses by heart (at least 30)?" "Can you list the Ten Commandments by heart in order?"  "Do you know all the books of the Bible in order?"  "Can you defend creation and your faith before an atheist or agnostic?"

Hmmm.  I know a lot of people who can name all the books of the Bible in order, but don't have a meaningful relationship with Jesus.  And so on.  

Navigators had a test too, and it's a little more holistic, but all in all, it's still about counting.  These are multiple choice questions, and I am biased against those.  "Mostly true" or "completely true" mean different things to different people.

That's why I prefer short answer questions.  And I prefer qualitative rather than quantitative questions.  In other words, I think counting the number of chapters I read or how many times I invite people to church is pretty meaningless.  As someone who has read many chapters, memorized numerous Scriptures, and probably missed fewer than ten weekend church services in more than fifty years, I can honestly say that numbers and counting do not provide a realistic assessment of spiritual health.  

Both Duane and I come from church backgrounds.  We know how to game the system.  We've logged more hours in ministry than most people I know, and we're about as dedicated to church stuff as you can get.  Dedicated to church stuff also does not provide a realistic assessment of spiritual health. 

With these things in mind, Duane and I started brainstorming.  

Right now I'm reading I Am a Follower by Leonard Sweet, a book on what it means to follow Christ.  He suggests that following Christ doesn't mean that we're just supposed to imitate Jesus.  Instead, we are supposed to "live life with the Spirit of Christ in us, with all the magic and miracle made possible by Jesus' own crucifixion and resurrection" (182).  

In other words, Christ lives in us.  Our lives are not our own.  And any spiritual inventory must evaluate how well we are the "living, breathing, walking-around presence of Jesus in the world today" (182).  This includes "humility, a willingness to learn and be taught by others" with a "sense of our need for others through an attitude of mutuality and reciprocity" (182).  

He offers three questions to wrestle with when we consider our incarnation--and thus our spiritual health:
  1. Who am I?
  2. Where am I?
  3. Where am I going?
Okay, these aren't really short-answer questions, but they do require some serious thought.  And the answers to these questions do tell us a lot about our spiritual health.

I would offer a fourth question:  Who is God?  They way we view God also tells us a lot about our spiritual life.  

Hopefully, I'll begin exploring some of these questions over the next few days.  Hopefully.  I have about 50 student essays to read plus my taxes and a FAFSA form to complete this week.  My life is fun.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I gave up writing last summer.

I gave up writing last summer.  

I don't mean that I actually stopped writing, but only that I stopped a certain type of writing.  I stopped blogging and writing about things I care about, things I'm learning, things I want to talk about.  I stopped in order to finish writing my thesis.  To maintain a little bit of sanity, I started journaling again.  Journaling is a little bit like blogging, but I have more incomplete random thoughts and even incomplete sentences because no one else will read my journal.  Until I die.  (I harbor fantasies of someone reading my journal and discovering my brilliance after I am gone.)  

I took a brief trip to Palm Springs after finishing my thesis and started writing again.  I planned to polish up some of the better entries and hopefully submit them to publishers.  It felt good to create word pictures and images.  It felt really good to explore and share my ideas and thoughts.  I had no teaching jobs lined up, and so this seemed like a good plan.  It was my only plan.

I left Palm Springs on a Wednesday and immediately got two classes.  That turned into five plus and internship, and I also signed up for a linguistics class.  I stopped writing again.  I stopped a lot of other things again too, like hanging out with friends and reading.  Sometimes I felt like I was going crazy.  

This semester is a little more sane, and so I'm trying to figure how to be myself again.  I'm reading four challenging books and several blogs, bouncing around between the book of Mark, favorite Psalms, and Colossians.  I'm still journaling.  I'm trying to see friends, although that's sporadic.  And I think about writing, themes to discuss and ideas to toss around.

Now it's time to write.