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Monday, January 23, 2012

How to Live Out Your Faith (part 1)

How are we really supposed to live out our faith?

Faith is simultaneously easy and difficult, but how is that possible? It seems as if it should be one or the other, but when lived out, we seem to go through life in a wavelike pattern, in and out of being able to trust God. Sometimes our faith struggles come from circumstances, sometimes it is due to laziness, but most of the time, we struggle because of the dueling priorities of our lives. We seem to want contradicting things in high doses, so we shuffle through life trying to figure out how to blend oil and water.

If God exists, by definition, He is the most valuable entity. What could be more valuable than the creator of the universe? If that is true then we should value Him most, but we often don't. Something happens between us knowing and us feeling and doing.

I think the cause for our inability to recognize and submit to God comes in waves of predictable patterns that are disguised so well that we don't recognize them as such. They are undercurrents that seem to overpower us from time to time, like the frog that remains in the kettle as it begins to boil.

1. Comfort and contentment covers the truth in our lives that faith is necessary. We become self-sufficient not because we necessarily intend to - unless if we are so afraid of uncertainty that we are trying to build everything from an empire to a bomb shelter - but because we recognize that this world is a fallen world full of selfishness. If we lived in a world where people weren't selfish and there was a crystal clarity of the level of care people had for each other, we wouldn't have any need to get ahead, insure ourselves, or protect ourselves from potential harms because we know there will always be someone there to help us get up when we are down. Some people may call me a socialist nutcase at this point, but the point I am making is not a political one. If I seem like a socialist, you are only thinking of what I am saying from a zero-sum perspective with people who either add value or take value away from society in terms of production. People, although often times measured by what they produce, are not defined by it. People are more than their contributions, even if they are not recognized. When we become comfortable and content with things on this earth we lose sight of things eternal and the temporal becomes elevated to the ultimate and highest place in life.

2. All of us pursue stability and novelty, and because of this, we are constantly trying to find a place of complete security while venturing out. This is a tension recorded by Montgomery and Baxter as one of the dialectics people experience. We want to feel safe while knowing that we aren't completely confined to what is known. Comfort and contentment if placed in the right sources will drive us to an understanding that the ground we are standing on will remain stable and that the rug will not be pulled out from under us. It's not about the feelings and perceptions of stability that matter then, but the reality of it. If we stand on quicksand, we will sink. If we stand on termite infested wood, we will fall through it. If we stand on reinforced steel, the ground will not shake beneath us. All of us are willing to venture out from a place of safety into the unknown, but Christianity says that its not about where you call home that matters, but who you walk with that makes things stable and novel. The thing I look forward to about eternity with God is that we will feel the stability and security of His endless love while constantly being awed by the immeasurability of his infinite greatness. The perfect satisfaction to our pursuit of both stability and novelty.

3. The gap between God's holiness and our sin (our need for Him) seems more like a crack in the wall instead of a gorge wider than the oceans that separate the the continents. A.W. Tozer is one of those great heroes of contemporary society that nailed this on the head. He noticed that people were missing the reverential aspects of God in so many ways so he devoted much of his life making much of God's eternal bigness. When we don't see a need for God's forgiveness, we don't see a need for God. When we don't see God's holiness, we don't see that we fall infinitely short of acceptable. There is so much that goes into our desire for God and often times it boils down to the recognition that we are thirsty on the verge of collapse. However, we simply become accustomed to our thirst and consider it normal. That in turn affects how we live our lives, hoarding as much water for ourselves as we can get without recognizing our habits for hoarding because we don't recognize how thirsty we are. We live as if we never have enough. When we are able to see the gap between God's holiness and our sin, we realize that the only way to close the gap is through divine intervention. Fortunately, we don't have to wait because that intervention already took place and all we need to do is jump into the river that takes us from here into eternity.

When I lived in Palos Verdes, CA you could almost count on a fog to cover the roads as you navigated through the roads. Recently, I drove back to PV to get some time away from the world and sit on a cliff to hear the waves crash against the rocks and the clouds move across the horizon. On my drive back, a fog came down to limit my visibility to the roads. Fortunately, I made it out in tact, but it reminded me of how fogs parallel life in so many ways. When the fog settles into our lives, we forget what we are living for. We forget that just because we can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there or that it isn't important. If our vision is limited, we only focus on what is directly in front of us. Fogs try to distract you away from the destination to whatever is immediately in front of you to make whatever is visible the most important thing in life. The problem with this is not that we are paying attention to what is coming at us, but we make it the most significant thing in our lives. When the fog lifts, things become clear. What is right in front of our face is important, but not ultimately important and we learn to see things with the end in mind - the end being an eternity spent with God.

Christ came to lift the fog that prevents us from seeing His saving love. The enemy attempts at all times to drop it back down and limit our visibility. Once we recognize this pattern, we can see that knowing Christ is the equivalent of having the technology to see through the fog. Yes, life can get hazy and challenging to navigate through, but the haziness and challenges are never greater than the navigator who guides us safely to the destination.

[How to Live Out Your Faith is a 3 part series on some of the foundational elements of our faith. It is a brief exploration of how our faith looks and the process we go through as we experience the tensions and pulls of living in this world, but not being defined by it. Part 1 discusses the patterns that hinder us in our faith. Part 2 discusses the principle of getting to the point of loving God. Part 3 discusses how faith is lived out in relationships and community.]

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