Faith EVOLUTION (a PINK Tuesday post)

Ichthys and Psalm23

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This has been a season of wrapping things up for me – more so than ever before. Every year the school year ends. Every year a class of Confirmation students is welcomed into Church membership. Every year we celebrate our graduates and applaud their achievements. But this year has been different for me.

This year I am the mother of a graduate. The mother of a Confirmation student.

My children are growing up in front of me, over which I seem to have precious little control.

And this season has gotten me thinking…

It actually all started with a Confirmation class assignment. This assignment is issued every year to every student attending Confirmation at my home Church. Both first and second year students are to write a Faith Statement which is to be shared at the end of the season.

Several years ago I began to broaden the scope of the Faith Statement assignment, drawing parents and Mentors of the students into this personal exploration of faith. Now, on the final night of Confirmation class for each school year, we sit around a growing circle of chairs and take turns. We take turns sharing our faith in words that make sense to us. In words that describe the faith we claim to have today.

Sitting in this circle of faith two weeks ago, listening to the faith stories and statements and journeys of children, teenagers, young and seasoned adults, it struck me that our faith itself is anything but fixed. This was especially noticeable in the second year statements, where what was written in 2010 had to be re-written to fit the growing faith-walk of these beautiful people of God.

I noticed this in my own Faith Statement, having written one each year for four years running. I even tried to cut corners between years one and two, but I found that a mere 12 months had rendered my beliefs – touched. Touched by life. Touched by loss. Touched by knowing more and seeing more and trusting more. And I am completely convinced that until we take the time to put into writing what we think we believe, our faith evolution is overlooked. Underestimated. Neglected. Missed.

So today I issue a challenge to all of you whose faith has never been put into words that can be written out on paper and maybe, someday, read aloud to a trusted circle of friends. Because sometimes we don’t really understand what it is that we believe. We’ve never thought it out before. We’ve never had to make our case or tell our story or stand on our own two feet and pull off the Sunday morning mask.

On this PINK Tuesday, I challenge you to bare your heart and wrestle with words until what hasn’t been crossed out on the page is the truth about what you know to be true about the God who loves you more than you can fathom. I believe so strongly in this practice of the Church that I will even go first, sharing my own incomplete understanding of God and my faith evolution with you.

Brita’s Faith Statement  May 11, 2011

I believe that the God of the Bible is not only REAL, but that He has a story, He has a plan, and He has given us every opportunity to get to know Him better (through His Word, through His Spirit and through the people in whom His Spirit lives today).

While I may not completely understand everything about Him, I believe He is know-able. Not only that, but I believe that His heart’s cry is that everyone who breathes – everyone He has created – would know Him. He loves us ALL that much!

I believe that my own story – the situations and experiences in my life – fit like the pieces of a puzzle into God’s big-picture story. There are connections between my life and the work God is doing in the world! Some of these connections are things I’m aware of – relationships with people or the noticeable effects of my life on the lives of others – but many of the ways God is operating through me aren’t even KNOWN by ME!

God created me (and every person) as a unique, hand-crafted masterpiece with gifts and tools to be put to good use in the world around us. Not only that, but He has given me the energy and passion of His Holy Spirit in order to activate my gifts and motivate my actions for the good of others and for the GLORY of God!

My belief is bigger than the words I can find to express that belief to you. But that’s okay, because I don’t think God is as interested in what we SAY as He is in how we LIVE our lives in relationship to Him and to the teachings of His Word. There’s something mysterious in the way that God moves into a life and changes the heart of a person. I am different today than I was a year ago.

God has given me eyes to actually SEE Him at work in people who are genuinely seeking to know Him more, and this is a very beautiful thing. It’s what keeps me teaching and leading and participating in the life of the church. Watching people become more like Jesus IS the ‘work’ of the church! We don’t MAKE it happen, God does! But we share in the fruit of the spiritual growth of others when we choose to make God’s family OUR family. That’s why I love Confirmation so much – because it’s one of the ways that God connects our lives together in faith and calls us to actively LIVE OUT that faith as a family, united, in a world that is painfully divided.

God’s way of doing things is weird. Weird to a world whose focus is on ME and MORE. God calls me to live for HIM and OTHERS, and to be satisfied with LESS of the stuff this world thinks is so important to have, SO THAT I will have room in my life for MORE of what He is pouring into me through His generous Spirit of Life!

The scripture verse that sums this up for me and seems to be the call on my life is Psalm 116:12-16:

“What can I give back to God for the blessings He’s poured out on me?

I’ll lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God!

I’ll pray in the name of God;

I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with his people.

When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him.

Oh, God, here I am, your servant, your faithful servant:

Set me free for your service!”

Will you do it? Will you put pen to paper and spell it all out – what you believe about the God who believes in you?

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The Trouble with Happiness (a PINK Tuesday Post)

‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!’

‘Shiny, happy people holding hands.’

‘Don’t worry, be happy.’

Sound familiar? A quick Google search brings up more than 100 songs with the word ‘happy’ in the title, but I have to wonder how many of us would use the word to describe the day we just had. Or the month. Or the decade.

It seems like everyone is striving for this thing called ‘happiness.’ Problem is, no one really knows exactly what it is or how to go about getting some for ourselves. We have an idea – that this thing, or this person, or this situation will make us ‘happy’ – but apparently our expectations are unrealistic and, ultimately, unrealized. I say it’s apparent, because statistics tell us that 1 in 10 Americans are currently taking an antidepressant.

If 10% of people in our country find happiness so elusive that they rely on medication in order to cope, I’ve got questions. Questions like:

What would make us happy – really? Are we mistaking happiness for the thrill of something new, only to find that once the rush of adrenaline is gone, we’re miserable and needy all over again?

Is happiness a reasonable goal? Are we somehow entitled to reaching this elusive state? Are some of us more able to reach a state of ‘happy,’ or more deserving of happiness than others?

What if our idea of happiness doesn’t even EXIST? Have we dreamed the impossible dream, only to find smoke and mirrors and a little pill that just might take the edge off of our inevitable disappointment?

I’m not really a conspiracy theorist, but I believe we’ve been set up. We’ve been set up to fail, because the world’s version of happiness is a lie. We are lied to every time we turn the television on. We are lied to every time we open up a magazine. We are lied to when we take that drink or buy that house or lease that car, because none of these things is able to make us happy.

The world says, ‘happiness is being thin.’ Tell that to the mother whose child is being treated for anorexia.

The world says, ‘happiness is being rich.’ Tell that to the millionaires whose kids would rather be anywhere, with anyone other than them.

The world says, ‘happiness is being in love.’ Tell that to a young mother when her child’s father doesn’t come home tonight – again.

I have a feeling that the trouble with happiness is that we think we know what happiness is – and we are wrong.

Jesus talks about happiness in Matthew chapter 5. You may not have heard these words spoken quite this way before:

“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised! Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully! Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them! Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God! Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children! Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven.” Matthew 5:3-12 (The Good News Translation)

I don’t know how we got our modern-day ideas about where happiness comes from! According to Jesus, the keys to happiness are to:

  • Be willing to admit we don’t have it all together
  • Be transparent and let our grief out of the bag
  • Be realistic about who we are and what we can (and cannot) do
  • Be passionate about the things that GOD is passionate about
  • Be loving and kind, innocent and earnest
  • Be an advocate for others – ALL others
  • Be put in places among people who don’t like what we stand for and aren’t afraid to let us know it.

Wow! And we thought that if we drove a new car and wore the $60 jeans and bought the newest iPhone that we’d be happy!

When I look through my contact list, it’s pretty obvious that the people in my life have every reason (by Jesus’ definition) to be HAPPY. We have messy lives. We make terrible mistakes, even though we try so hard to get it right. We are close enough to tears on most days that we keep tissue in our purses. The list of what we can’t seem to get done is almost always longer than the list of what we can do. We’re passionate, all right, but not necessarily about God. We get mad, we act badly. We value our street smarts more with each heart-wrenching edition of the evening news. We’re afraid of those who aren’t like us, so it’s easy to hole up in safe places and keep a low profile. We want everyone to like us.

And it is no amazing wonder that WE AREN’T HAPPY.

What if we chose today to look at happiness from Jesus’ perspective?

What if we really believed that His way is the BEST WAY for us to live?

What if we allowed the light of Truth to shine into our darkness, exposing the lies we’ve bought into for all of these long, painful years?

Psalm 34 paints a beautiful picture of these what-ifs in our world…

“If things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy: Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.” Psalm 34:2b-4 (The Message)

God met me.

MORE THAN halfway.

And He set me free!

From my anxiety and fear.

How can we hear this testimony and NOT be happy?!

On this PINK Tuesday, JOIN ME in spreading the news! TOGETHER, as sisters in Christ and daughters of the King, we CAN get the Word out!

Glory!