It’s O.K. to struggle with your faith

There has been a lot of doubt and skepticism from “high profile” Christians. Many have felt that there hasn’t been a place for this line of thinking in the Christian movement. While there are circles where this is not encouraged, there are also a ton of circles that are exploring.

I have seen a few rebuttals by bloggers and musicians that have some excellent points. Some have pointed out the holes in the arguments; others are urging us to follow God and not celebrity.

As much as these points are valid what needs not to get lost in the conversation and what I want to say to those who identify with the struggle of faith that has invaded so many Christian leaders is,

It is ok to struggle with God and your faith.

I believe it is un-Christian to not.

To not struggle in some capacity or another is to say that you have a full understanding of not just what the Scriptures say, but of God. If you believe in the God of the Scriptures, then both of those premises are absurd! Us understanding God is like a chair trying to understand it’s maker. The maker of the chair is so far beyond what the chair could ever comprehend.

Luckily we have Scripture and can experience God in beautiful and rich ways. To say that Scripture should be the thing that pulls us through and anchors us into the world of certainty is to claim that we have a perfect understanding of what the Scriptures say, which we don’t. Not even close. We rely on wisdom, experience, and tradition, and we do the best we can.

Often not recognizing this, we fix our faith to unhealthy paradigms.

When doubts and questions appear to unfurl our sails of faith, we become crippled. Instead of pushing forward to discovering brave oceans of new realities in God, we can either give up and lose hope or bunker down in safe coves.

I see neither of the later as viable options.

I believe it is good to doubt and question. When I look at the Scriptures, I can’t help but see a God who wants us to wrestle with the big issues, always realizing that there is more to learn.

There is a story at the beginning of Scripture that articulates this. There is a story about a man named Jacob. Jacob, like us all, has some serious baggage, much of which is self-inflicted.

As Jacob begins to travel to create a new life for himself and his family, he begins to wrestle with his ideas of what his life is and who God is. The book of Genesis records the Jacob has an encounter with an angel where they wrestled, and Jacob left with a limp and a new name. In the words of Switchfoot, however, “[he] wrestled an angel for more than a name.”

The Scriptures record,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:28

While the name change is important, we must not lose sight of how the ancient rabbis interpreted this verse. They believed that this set the premise for our approach to the Scriptures and a relationship with God. (more in this in Chapter 2 of my book Hidden faces).

There should never be a point when we stop wrestling with God, Scripture, or hard questions. It doesn’t mean a patchwork of ideas that we throw together as though we’re filling a pothole, but there are times when we need a fresh coat of pavement.

It is not that Scripture, tradition and experience don’t matter. That somehow our wrestling with the big and small questions undermine everything. It just means that sometimes we need a tweak and other times we need a new street.

For me, because I have experienced God, it demands me to push to understand this life deeper. There have been times when my tradition has let me down, majorly. There have been times when no matter how much I trusted and looked at Scripture, it left me frustrated, confused, disillusioned. I had an experience that I could not deny. I knew and still know that there has to be something beyond myself and that faith isn’t built upon the straw of others nor upon the weak foundation of my limited understanding of an ancient text.

My faith is built upon the fact that I have had experiences with something beyond myself. It now demands of me to wrestle.

Saying this, if my faith stopped at the experience and didn’t have the structure of tradition (tried and true practices, rituals, and paradigms) and the Scriptures (God’s word that tells of the Word, Jesus) then my faith becomes a kite flying in the wind with no string.

We must wrestle with all of these aspects of faith.

As a teenager, I had a lot of struggles with the church. Its brokenness has a continual effect on me. One of the many things that helped save my faith was a little book called Joshua by Joseph Girzone. It’s a story of Jesus showing up in the church today. It was then in my first year of college that Len Sweet’s book Postmodern Pilgrims opened my eyes to new ways of expressing our faith. Sweet helped me find the traditions that could keep me tethered.

During my mid-twenties, I was struggling with the abuse of experience in my movement. As I reflected on those I grew up with and the teens I was now pastoring, it was plain to see that in many cases, their whole faith was built upon experience alone. There were no roots! No tradition or Scripture – no wonder they fell away. It was a dedication to Scripture in this season that helped me sift through the healthy and not so healthy experiences — something I still have to do.

More recently, I had a crisis with the Scriptures. They weren’t working for me anymore. I was preaching and leading others, but the words fell flat for me. Luckily, as I stated previously, my experiences wouldn’t allow me to let go. What I needed was a new paradigm of understanding. I am thankful for POD casts like The Bible For Normal People and Reknew With Greg Boyd. I’m eternally grateful of Boyd’s book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (I suggest the abridged Cross Vision) that has given me a new lens (hermeneutic) to reading the Scriptures that have allowed it to come alive in my heart again.

If I never began to wrestle I would have thrown it all away, of this I’m sure. If I never struggled through the hard questions, I would never have the faith I do now that is vibrant and life-altering.

I not only see the value in doubting and questioning; I see it’s vital. Just remember, it must never end with doubt and question. That’s just lazy. The doubts and question must propel us forward to seek new lands of truth that direct us to new understandings of God that are never complete but continually drive us forward to new areas of discovery.

[GUEST BLOG] Affirmation girl

Written by Sarah Trombley

Affirmation girl.

That’s me–this is my love language without a doubt.

I need … I crave kind words, and that’s great, we all need an encouraging word, but there’s an ugly side of the affirmation game, and it’s called validation.

I don’t just need affirmation, I need validation. I need to know I am liked, valued and essential. It seems to me that I’m not the only one. Our culture’s obsession with social media reveals this desire. Don’t get me wrong, I love socials, but this drive for followers, likes, and influence all stem from our need to feel validated.

The problem is unless we are being validated and affirmed by Christ, it’s a trap!

You see these days just about everyone is searching for validation. Like me, they search for it in titles, people, and likes on Instagram. We even subconsciously value people based on their followers on socials.

It’s like one giant high school popularity contest.

At times I can feel small and insignificant.

I’m the stay at home mom,

who didn’t finish college

and often gets written off as a ditz.

I want to be respected, noticed, and heard, which isn’t bad, but sometimes I also find myself wanting to be envied.

As I’ve recognized this in myself and in the culture, I’ve learned the importance of checking my motivation. I need to evaluate whether I am trying to build up myself or build a kingdom for Christ. I need to check who affirms me, who validates me.

Kind words from family, friends, and strangers aren’t the problem. In fact, we could all use a few more words of affirmation, but my worth and value are determined by Christ. He respects me, notices me, and hears me. He loves me and is proud to call me His own, and that is enough!

For more on this and other identity issues check out my husband’s book.

Hidden Faces – The Playlist

Those who know me know I love music. Those who have read my book have probably noted the same. Throughout Hidden Faces: Discovering our True Identity in Christ I reference and quote many songs to convey my point. There are also numerous others songs that speak the message of identity, as well as the other issues we tackle.

That is why I created a playlist. You can stream it on your device of choice!

To sample the songs check out the files below. https://music.apple.com/ca/playlist/hidden-faces-discovering-our-true-identity-in-christ/pl.u-XkD00ZrUaLam4 

For a list of the chapters with the songs for them check out below. I’ve also included some music videos of select songs.

Preface

Side – Travis

Intro

Captain – Hillsong UNITED

Ch 1 – The First Step

Lord, save me from myself – Jon Foreman

come home running – Chris Tomlin

give me Jesus – Bethel Music & Matt Stitton

Ch 2 – Echoes of The Past

On the Road to beautiful – Charlie Hall

Ch 3 – Glory Days

13 – Allan Rayman

Hey There Delilah – The Plain White T’s

The Reason – Urban Rescue

Ch 4 – So Jealous 

Jealous – Nick Jonas

Ch 5 – Bitter Isn’t Better

Frail – Jars of Clay

As long as you love me – Back Street Boys

Ch 6 – No Need to Race

in the air – Phil Collins

Strength and Beauty – Citizens

Ch 7 –  The Call Becomes God

The calling – The Benjamin Gate

Ch 8 – Regret

Stand in your love – Bethel Music & Josh Baldwin

Broken – Lifehouse

Ch 9 – Anger Times

The Orphan – Newsboys

Lord, I need you – Matt Maher

Ch 10 – Spirit & Truth

look up child – Lauren Daigle

hookers & robbers – Charlie Hall

Elohim – Hillsong Worship

Conclusion

so will I – Hillsong UNITED

Have it all – Bethel Music & Brian Johnson

My life is in your hands – God’s Property

What’s Your Story

Thanks to Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I’ve been thinking a lot about story. What is the story of our life?

What’s the climax?

Who’s the narrator?

Where does the arc begin?

Who’s the protagonist?

Some of these may have answers. While for others, we may never. But let us not fool ourselves, we are all in a story. The choice we have is whether we choose to enter into it and make it the best we can or sit and wonder what our story could be like.

Too often we allow comfort to set in and we never take a chance. I think, how would Jesus’ disciple Peter’s narrative be different if he never stepped out of the boat to walk upon the water (Matt 14). What would the world look like if Dr. Martin Luther King never dreamed of equality and took a step? How many generations would be stuck in hopeless abject poverty if not for an immigrant braving oceans and deserts with all but hope?

The problem being, so often we need an upsetting moment to push us out of comfort into the story we were born to live. For Peter, it was the storm. For Dr. King, it was the brutality of racism and hate. The immigrant, it is loss, governments, and desperation.

Miller writes,

“Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won’t enter into a story.”

Comfort is just that, comfortable. While comfort is vital from time to time, it can also be like a pot of cold water with a frog upon a stove (not that I have ever eaten or cooked frogs… yet). The water is cold, and the frog is content and comfortable, but slowly the heat is turned up until it’s dead in the water. However, if you put it in hot water, it knows it needs to escape. You might say it knows that the meal it’s being prepared for isn’t the type of story it wants to live.

While comfort can be great in a moment or even a season, it can be a dangerous trap that pauses the story of our life.

As I write in Hidden Faces: Discovering our True Identity in Christ,

“It’s easy to be crippled from starting the journey God has for us. It can feel daunting. It’s hard when it can mean leaving the secure job or disappointing a friend or family member. Too often we have to lose the job or the family member or have a health scare to take the step we should take. I know that was what happened to me. It was not until I lost a job that I took steps. It’s easy, especially when you have a young family, to play it safe instead of braving the oceans of discovery that lie before us.”

What is it that your story is waiting to write?

You may not even know. The problem being is that comfort is of no help. If we always escape the uncomfortable, we will never learn what it can teach us.

What if…

we decided to try something new?

we went on that trip we always longed?

we sacrificed and took control of our finances instead of the comfort of excess?

we risked our heart and entered that relationship?

Who knows what it is? Well, maybe you do or perhaps not yet. As long as we choose the “Kingdom of comfort where [you] are king[/queen]”, to quote Delirious, you will forever live in wonder.

There will never be an arc.

You will never reach the climax.

You will never know what it’s like to be the hero/heroine.

You will be a frog slowing cooking in your comfortable pot of slowly warming water and your juices.

Now, doesn’t that sound lovely…. not so much.

Jeremiah declared the words of God Judah and Jerusalem a truth that I believe also applies to us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future… You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring you back from captivity.”

Jeremiah 29:11, 13-14

Let’s seek the discomfort of God and allow Him to release us from the captivity of comfort. Let’s step into the plan, destiny–braving the ocean and stepping out of the boat.

Where do you find comfort?