Friday, December 27, 2013

Reason for the Season

Good thing there are "12 days of Christmas" or this post would be really late for a Christmas post!
It's pretty amazing how the holidays can make us so busy AND exhausted!
Aside from the hustle and bustle of the season, I had a great time with family and I hope you did, too!

In this series, we first talked about getting the nerve up to ask hard questions.
Then, we talked about being open and willing to hear the answer, whether we like it or not.
Once we have the answer, what do we do with it?

We either take a step of faith and believe in it, or we do nothing with it. 
In "Letters from a Skeptic", Ed asked hard questions over a span of 3 years. 
Although his questions were full of doubt, he was still open to what his son had to say.
After 3 years of discourse, Ed's belief had changed.
From a belief of agnosticism (a god cannot be proven or disproved), Ed came to believe that there is an all-loving God who sent His son, Jesus Christ to be in relationship with us and to save us. 
From this belief, hope was born.

Just like Ed, Mary and Joseph, as well as the shepherds and Wise Men, had a similar experience.
Although they were presented something hard to imagine, they were willing and acted on it. Because of this, they were given hope in return. 
For Ed, his belief gave him the hope of eternal life and relationship with Jesus Christ.
For Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and Wise Men, (as well as others), they received the hope of God here on earth, aka Emmanuel (God with us). 

Belief is the reason for the season, not Santa, candy canes, or presents. We do things because we believe. We celebrate because we believe. When we believe that God came to earth as a baby boy born in a manger during a genocide, so that we would be made right with God and be in relationship with Him, we are given the ultimate joy and hope that no one else can offer.
This belief is the reason for the season.

So it's clear that asking hard questions, being open, and stepping out in faith to arrive at a belief is definitely worth it!

Later, we'll discuss a few specific questions from Letters From a Skeptic.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Are you open?

By asking questions, there must be a willingness to hear the answer and go from there.

While reading, "Letters from a Skeptic", it is clear that although Ed (the skeptic father) has many questions and doubts, at least he is willing to step outside of his head (and heart) and take a chance by listening to his son, Greg. Throughout the book, Ed continues to ask questions, one right after the other. 
The correspondence of letters lasted from March 10, 1989 to November 22, 1991. Clearly, there was a willingness and persistence from both Ed and Greg during this discourse. Either one of them could have easily at some point said, "Okay, I'm tired of this. I can't think or talk about this anymore." Not that this was an easy task for both of them, it actually was tiring, but they didn't let that get in the way of this time for questions and growth.

In chapter 2 of Luke, we learn about Jesus' birth. Luke 2:15 tells us about the shepherds reactions to the angels' good news, "When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us so straight into Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."

The shepherds could have simply reacted out of fear and ignored the news, but instead, they wanted to go see for themselves. They could have even been skeptical and said, "That sure was some quack job...let's go make sure this really didn't happen." 
Instead, they were open and willing. They took a leap of faith by going and seeing the Son of God laying in a manger.

Just like the shepherds and Ed Boyd were open and willing, there comes a time for each and every one of us to have a willingness to believe. We can't reach a belief without being open to it. 
Asking questions can be hard, but being ready for the answers can even be harder. Sometimes we may have enough guts to ask the hard questions, but still find ourselves in a box that keeps us from being open to more possibilities.

Mary questioned how she could be the mother of Jesus while being a virgin.
The shepherds were willing to go see what the angels had told them. 
Although we weren't in the stable or out in the fields, we still have the opportunity to believe in the gift sent from God. 

Next post, we'll talk about what can be birthed from beliefs. 

Bible Reading Plan for this week: Ezekiel 31-48

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Friday, December 6, 2013

It starts with a question

I had this idea to focus on the idea of belief and for some reason, I'm having difficulty putting it altogether. Come on brain, get it together! So hang in there with me! It makes sense in my mind, so I sure hope it will translate. 

If you read my last post, you know that I challenged you to write out some of your beliefs about life, faith, Christmas or whatever you wanted. How did that go? Was it easy? Difficult? Surprising?

For me, this time was a tad bit easier than last time. I don't know if it was because I had just graduated from college and felt brain-dead, not to mention, overwhelmed by an extremely busy time in my life but who knows. Whatever the reason, I think it's perfectly normal go to through times where questioning is better than answering. Maybe this time was easier because I had become aware that my beliefs weren't as concrete as I thought or maybe it was easier, because I've experienced and learned more since.

It makes me think of Dorey and Susan on Miracle on 34th Street. At first they didn't believe in the "magic" of Christmas, but as time went on, their disbelief turned into belief. It took time for their doubts to be erased about that old man with rosey cheeks, button nose, and a big, round belly. 

It also makes me think of Mary. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, we read about when Mary discovers that she is to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
The angel, Gabriel, comes to her and tells her, Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (v.28)
What a greeting! I think it would definitely catch someone's attention.
Gabriel continued to tell her the shocking news.  Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;  and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (v.31-33)

Guess how Mary replied.
She didn't shout, "Great! I can't wait!"
She didn't hide or run away. [I think I might have!]
She didn't quietly say, "That's not possible.
Instead, she asked, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" (v.34)
I'd say that's a pretty good question. 

While she could have brought the conversation to a screeching halt, she encouraged it. Instead of making a statement, she asked a question.
I think that's important. I think we can rest assured that asking questions is vital for growth.

I remember in school, I was always afraid to ask questions. I felt like questions were frowned upon, in many cases. When it comes to questions about life, faith, and all thing important things, I think questions are the seed of learning. 

When Mary asked that simple question, Gabriel didn't shut down and not answer her, but in return, He gave her an explanation for her question...
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God." (v. 35)
He gave her a legitimate answer, when he could have said, "Just believe what I say, Mary."

Not to mention, he didn't stop with an answer, he followed with an example.
"And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.  For nothing will be impossible with God.” (v. 36-37)
He gave her something she could relate to.  

What started out as a proclamation from an angel, continued all because of a question. When we are confused about something, we can't expect an explanation without speaking up. It's amazing how asking questions can bring about answers. However, there are many times when we may not be able to get an answer, but that is when trust and faith come in. It wouldn't hurt to try and ask anyway!

We are rational creatures, so it only makes sense that questions can often be at the forefront of our minds. Like Mary, sometimes we need more than a simple answer, but an explanation and example at times might be necessary for beliefs to be born. 

In the following posts, we'll explore some questions and dialogue from Greg Boyd and his father in their book, "Letters from a Skeptic". 

What are some of your beliefs? Were questions raised when you were doing the exercise? Was it easier to think of disbeliefs than beliefs?

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Reason for the Season

It's that time of year again where we find trees in living rooms, wreaths on doors, strings of lights on light posts, and continuous [cheesy-which I happen to love] Christmas movies on every single night [thanks to the Hallmark channel]. It's the time when people go from store to store, checking their lists and checking them twice. It's the time when you spend hours cooking an extravagant meal for your loved ones, when temptation of throwing in the towel is just beneath the horizon when you realize that the oven was never turned on in the first place. Through the chaos of it all, I think it's important that we stop in the silence of the Christmas music, hustle and bustle of shopping, and the aroma of the holiday meal so that we can focus on the reason for the season. 

When we turn our minds to the reason for the season, we come face to face with our beliefs. Maybe you resonate with many beliefs or maybe you aren't sure what you believe in. It makes me think of one of my favorite Christmas movies, "Miracle on 34th Street". The reoccurring theme of the movie is "believe". Dorey Walker and her daughter, Susan, are skeptics of the man who travels around the world in one night with a nice and naughty list in hand with every child's name listed. The movie follows the relationship they have with Kris Kringle, the Macy's Christmas Santa, and the controversy the city of New York faces when it comes to believing without seeing. 

Last Christmas, the series I wrote was the Cast of Christmas, but this year, I'm going to change it up a bit. Instead of going through only the Nativity Story, I want to write about the core of the holiday season...believing. No matter what religion we practice, our actions often stem from our beliefs. A couple years ago, I was asked to write out a list of my beliefs and honestly, I had a hard time with it. So I'd like to challenge you to sit down and write out a list of your beliefs. It can be about life in general. It can be about faith and religion. It can be about the holiday season specifically. Let's focus on believing this holiday season. It may be difficult and in fact, you may find that it's easier to write about what you don't believe in. 

My inspiration for this topic came from the book, "Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father's Questions about Christianity" by Gregory Boyd and Edward Boyd. Just like Dorey and Susan in Miracle on 34th Street, this father-son duo ask some difficult questions and explore the depths (or lack-thereof) of their beliefs. I'll be sharing bits and pieces of their challenging conversation in hopes to begin discussion and aid in the strengthening of beliefs. It's amazing what the end result can be when we question, explore, and believe. I would say that Dorey, Susan, Gregory and Edward would all agree that through the wrestling, joy and hope can be born. 

Bible Reading Plan: Ezekiel 16-30

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