Category Archives: Faith & Spiritual Drift

Here’s Your Sign

I asked God for a sign yesterday; a confirmation on a choice I was considering. You see, after 40+ years, I think I finally know what I want to do with my life. All I needed was to find out if my envisioned purpose fit into God’s plan and His intended use of my talents (whatever they may be).

So I asked.

Yeah, that was a mistake.

I was praying on the way home last night and somewhere in the conversation I said, “You know, if I could just see that XX amount of people have read my post today, I’ll know that this is what I should be doing and I’ll know that my ideas for the direction of this website and my writing is where You want me to go.”

Can you guess how many readers I had when I got home?

Nope . . . lower.

Nope, lower than that too.

I went to sleep deflated, depressed and a few other de- adjectives. I woke up questioning (something I’m really, really good at.) and I asked my wife what she thought of the whole situation. Li’l Miss Pragmatic’s answer was, of course, “What does the bible say about ‘signs’?” So I looked . . .

Matthew Chpt. 12:38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Luke Chpt. 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Or to put it more bluntly, Jesus tells the Pharisees, ‘I’ve been giving you miraculous signs all along and you still don’t believe.’ Gabriel tells Zechariah, ‘There’s a freakin’ angel standing in front of you and you still don’t believe.’ To me, they both say pretty much the same thing; the same thing that God is perhaps telling me by pointing these passages up: “I’ve been showing you signs, what good is one more going to do?” Then, when I look back over the road I’ve taken to get to this point, yeah, I can see signs that have probably been there all along . . .

First of all, regardless of the number of readers I have, I enjoy writing. I get a certain satisfaction in putting the final period, the final edit, onto a potential post.

Second, it didn’t take long for the direction of my writing to become clear. The original intent of Full Retail Christianity (my original blog), was basically going to be glorified bitching about my job. Who cares! But when I started writing more from my heart, writing from a perspective of questions I had or observations I saw, (starting essentially with D.Faults and Freaks and on since) it got easier. It got more satisfying. And, it started to resonate.

Third, I can see the direction for the future and a conclusion to the purpose of undertaking this in the first place. In other words, I know where I want to go, and I have ideas on how to get there.

And God sits up there and goes, “See??!!”

So, do I think asking for a sign was a mistake? Yeah, I do. All it did was ruin a night’s sleep and cause me undo stress and worry. Worry that, had I fffaaaaaiiiittttthhhhh (over-emphasis on the obvious!), I never would have had to endure in the first place. What good would one more sign do anyway? If I’ve asked God to lead in my life, what right do I have to continually ask, in essence, “Are you still there, God? Can you show me? Are you still leading me? Are you sure? God??”

Maybe, the takeaway of all this is, if you’re looking for a sign, don’t look up, look around. If you’re looking back through faith in the One who you’ve asked to lead in your life, the road’s most likely littered with them. If it’s not, well, that’s probably a sign.

“See??!!”

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Our Spiritual Drifts

Ah, the gifts of the Spirit. You know what I’m talking about; wisdom, faith, healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of speaking in tongues, etc. Everyone’s supposed to have them: lying dormant in those yet to cross the line of faith; itching to bubble to the surface if not already on full, glorious display in those who have.

I think I’ve finally figured out mine . . .

. . . Mine is being in awe of those who have spiritual gifts.

It truly floors me when I’m able to connect with a song from Third Day, MercyMe or Casting Crowns (and their brilliant lyricist, Mark Hall) or a book by Francis Chan or C.S. Lewis. To be moved by inspirational speakers like James McDonald (Walk in the Word) or Mark Gungor (Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage). Those guys have got it. To me, they are very obviously being led by the Holy Spirit. And I think . . .

What’s wrong with me?

Why aren’t I able to inspire like that? Why aren’t I able to discern life around me through the lens of spiritual wisdom? Why can’t I speak in tongues? (Well, if you listen to me get into playing fits with the kids you might think otherwise, but I digress.) Maybe I’m not doing it right. Maybe I don’t have the Holy Spirit in me. Maybe God isn’t listening and I am just praying to the empty air around me.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, I thought so. I think we’ve all been there. If we’re totally honest with ourselves, I think we continue to visit that particular exit on the road to spiritual fulfillment more often than we’re comfortable with. Furthermore, I think that’s one of the biggest ongoing problems with those seeking answers, those new to Christian faith, and pretty much anyone else, including many who’d call themselves “mature” Christians.

Doubt.

Not a lack of Spiritual Gifts but an overabundance of Spiritual Drift.

Once you cross the line of faith you expect to be different. Choirs should sing, beams of light should shoot out of the sky and hosts of heavenly angels should alight all around you giving high fives and doing end-zone style victory dances.

Doesn’t happen does it? (But, in their defense, maybe my angels were off that day.)

How about when you pray? Don’t you expect to be heard? Don’t you expect to be answered—your way? You expect your problem to be solved, your worry to abate, your friend or relative to be miraculously healed.

Doesn’t always happen does it? That addiction remains a maddening temptation. That problem is still nagging. That friend or relative still dies.

And what about spiritual gifts? Gifts of the Spirit are a big thing at our church. We’re constantly told that, know it or not, we all have them. That if we ask, we will be shown.  Or if not, we can always take one of the ready-made tests available—both in church and on-line—to be able to figure out what our particular gift is.

I don’t know about you, but every time I take that test I get a different gift. And it’s never one of the really cool ones like speaking in tongues. That would be great!

Doubt creeps in.

I must not be doing it right.

Maybe I’m not really “saved” after all.

Maybe, because I’m still such a screw-up that God really doesn’t want me on the home team; even as a bench-warmer.

Or worse, maybe God doesn’t care.

I will say this; atheists are right on one account. We, who believe in a God, have a lot riding on faith. We put our hope out into the ethereal nothingness in promise that it sticks to something, to Someone. The hope is that He is indeed there, and He is faithful to answer. The faith is in the confidence that, if He says “no” or “wait” there is more, or better, or at least understanding, awaiting us at the end of whatever trial we’re currently going through. The doubt is in being human: An incurable, terminal condition that we’re all born with.

And honestly, I don’t have all the answers either. I’m still waiting for some of my answers just as you are. I’ve been told “no” on a few, just as I’m sure you have. But I rest in my faith. I rely in my hope. And, I get mad in my occasional doubt. Just as I’m sure you have. I don’t think I’m too unusual in my spiritual journey. But I do think that any believer who says they’ve figured it all out, all their prayers have been answered, and their lives have been nothing but blue skies and rainbows is probably lying; to themselves and to others.

Or they’re just weird.

Especially if they’re speaking in tongues.

Stepping Away From the Self-Righteous Abyss

I had a perfectly good post ready to go today. It was weighty, full of insight and self-assurance in calling out what, in my perception, was yet another folly of our community. There was only one problem: Before I posted it this morning I read Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 2 & 3. If you’re not familiar with it, Paul basically points out (in quite vivid detail) the difference between knowledge of the law and application of the law. In other words, just because you know the law (the will of God for our lives) doesn’t mean you are righteous, you actually have to DO it; to live it out. Daily.

And, what I was going to say that others in our community weren’t doing, I wasn’t doing either. In this case, I was upset at our community’s lack of outrage over the county government’s decision to pull funding for a “meals on wheels” program for some of the elderly shut-ins in our community. I wasn’t upset at our local government although I hate that the government is forced into a decision that does this to these elderly citizens. (Yes, I say forced, because ultimately it is only through our continued funding {read: taxes} that social programs such as this can exist. You want lower taxes—here’s the result! Not that I have an opinion on the subject.) I was upset at our community’s lack of response (read: astonishment, activism, outrage) whereas the very next day there was a huge outpouring of community support over an eleven-year-old boy who had his bike stolen on the very day that he’d purchased it with money he’d worked all summer to attain.

But this morning I thought, “What did Ido?” Did I rush down to donate to my local senior center? No. Did I call up my local government official and express my concern over the decision? No. Did I remove the plank from my own eye so I could see more clearly to remove the speck from my brother’s eye?

No.

So, where was my basis for judgment? And within this realization I believe is the root cause of friction between those who call themselves the “faithful” and those that have yet to cross the line of faith. What’s the difference? If we, who call ourselves Christians, aren’t living with an outward appearance of being somehow different, what then are we? Just because we spend an hour or so in a building together on the weekend, how can we claim to be any better than . . .

Different than . . .

Special . . .

Set apart.

I have a lot of work to do with the huge plank in my own eye, before I can call out anyone else for the speck in their own. I can start by donating to the new food bank that just opened beside my own church (how did I never see that before?) I can start by being an example rather than a bullhorn. One of my favorite religious quotes has always been by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

Maybe it’s time I listen to it.

Whatever you do, don’t pray for patience!

A lot of things have been said about God: Some of which are actually good. One thing that can’t be said however is that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. If you want to test that theory, just try praying for patience sometime.

This is one area where the old adage rings true: “God doesn’t grant you patience. He grants you the opportunities to show patience.”

Except there’s only one problem with that: I don’t want opportunities to show patience.

I want PATIENCE. And I want it NOW, dammit!

But that’s not the way it works in the life of spiritual growth now, is it? What good would it do for God to just give us patience like that? What would we have learned? No, no, my friend; look at it through the omniscient lens of our Creator; the gift is not in the acquiring, but in the process to acquiring. I can just picture my Heavenly Father looking down on me as I pray for patience at the start of another workday, shaking his head in a resigned melancholy and saying, “Ooooooookay . . . .”

I know. I’ve done it with my own son: Usually when it involves a ramp of cushions, a flight of stairs and a laundry basket.

Ooooooookay . . .

In other words, “This is probably going to end badly.”

And besides, don’t think that they don’t have “Heaven’s Funniest Home Videos” up there. You’ve got to think that even though they’ve seen it a million times, all of heaven goes nuts for this stuff; you know they do! I mean, how many times have you seen “Guy gets hit in the crotch with a Basketball”? It’s still funny! And, when our children are poised at the top of the stairs, all smiling confidence and self-assurance saying, “Watch me! Watch me!”, who are we as parents to say ‘no’? We could. In fact, we probably should, in most cases. But more often than not, these are what we like to refer to as “learning opportunities”, or “teachable moments”.

So, we bite our lip, watch the carnage unfold, apply the antiseptic and band-aids, and say things like, “its okay . . . its okay.” All the while mentally whispering to ourselves, “I knew it . . . I knew it.” After all, in the end it’s not what our kids want, it’s what we know is best for them that matters; like life-lessons on gravity and hard surfaces. Why should our Father be any different with us? It’s that omniscient thing again—like he knows everything. Like how we don’t need patience, we need to learn patience.

Dammit!