Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

One of my favorite activities as a youth was watching horror movies.  Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Chucky, and Jason all had a special place in my heart.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to make a confession.  The movies and I had a love-hate relationship.  I loved the way the movies made be feel when I watched them, as though I were alive.  However, I hated the way they made me feel because I thought I was about to die.  Every time something terrifying would happen on the screen, my heart would start to race, my breathing would become labored, and I would close my eyes hiding my head under a blanket.  


The darkness served two purposes: (1) protect me from the bad guys and (2) create a safe place for me to breath.  The ridiculous irony of this scene was that the movies – and all the scary stuff associated with them – still played on my television screen.  The sounds of someone running down a streets or through a forest.  The terrifying screams of victims.  The suspenseful music with lots of violin.  All of it still played in my ears, as I kept my eyes shut and found solace in the safety of darkness.


The Apostle Paul once told the Christians at Corinth to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Strange, don’t you think?  Closing our eyes places us in darkness.  How are we to avoid obstacles?  How are we to retreat from weird and strange people coming our way?  How are we to veer away from difficult hazards?  How are we going to jump over potholes?   How are we going to stay clear of the bad guys?  Maybe that was just the point.  Walking by faith and not by sight means we cannot avoid such deterrents.  In fact, walking without sight almost guarantees we will walk right into them.


The Corinthians Christians were struggling.  They were a church divided.  They were being persecuted by outsiders.  Everywhere they turned, they saw scary stuff staring back.  Some of them were even asking, “Is following this Jesus worth it?”  So Paul tells them to close their eyes and take another step.  The scary stuff of this world will really never go away, but our eyes often deceive us.  Our eyes convince us that we are in danger, when the reality is life is not much more than a script playing out on a screen.  


Now, don’t get me wrong, present reality can be scary, but closing our eyes and walking by faith can remove the edge from that scary.  Closing our eyes can protect us from life’s slight of hand.  Closing our eyes actually helps us to take another step forward towards a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that God has been planning since the beginning of time.  We walk by faith and not my sight, because we have learned not to trust this world but to trust God.  


So, close your eyes, all you Jesus-followers.  Let the scary of this world come at us: Freddy, Michael, Chucky, and Jason.  Come one, come all!  Cancer, come on, we are not afraid.  Loneliness, we are not alone any longer.  Rejection, you cannot hurt us anymore.  Doubt, you are now only an asset to make our faith stronger.  Hate, we release you, for love has always been more powerful.  Debt, your stranglehold on us is no more, we will overcome.  Jesus-followers, we are walkers of the way, thus we close our eyes not to avoid the scary things of this world, but to see them for what they truly are against the magnificence of our faith in God.


Close your eyes and take the next step!


Under the Hood

Next month, my youngest son turns sixteen.  He will be receiving the family car, a 2005 Honda Accord.   This particular car has been handed down from me to my oldest son.  Now, it’s being handed down from my oldest son to my youngest son.  At first, my youngest was not too keen on the idea of getting a third hand car, but once we started talking it over his enthusiasm began to increase as we discussed a new paint job and new tint for the windows (not to mention the new stereo system with subwoofers his older brother installed a year before he left for Boston).


Over the weekend, I began the process of getting estimates on how much it was going cost to get this old, but reliable, car ready for its new driver.  I began with the new paint job.  Wow!  Then, I talked to a tinting company.  Who knew dark stickers cost so much?  Finally, I went to the mechanic.  Thankfully, everything that needed to be addressed was routine maintenance, but it was still going to cost a pretty penny or two.  After I spoke with my son about the costs, we formulated a plan.  We would start with the work on the engine, brakes, and tires, because as he rightly concluded, “It does’t matter what the outside of the car looks like, if nothing works right under the hood.”


“It does’t matter what the outside of the car looks like, if nothing works right under the hood.”  


In this one sentence, my youngest son captured a deep personal truth for all of us to ponder.  For what good does it do to polish the outside of our lives, if our hearts, minds, and souls are decaying?  How many of us neglect regular maintenance under our spiritual hoods, concentrating more on the worldly exterior for others to see?  Sure, we use new paint and shiny objects to hide what is truly under our hoods; all the while, more and more rust continues to mount as the years go by.   Our faith, our hope, our joy, our peace, and our love begin to falter because we have focused all of our attention on outward priorities, neglecting what’s inside.


When the inside begins to fail, it gets harder and harder to start our engines in the morning.  We get so busy and get going so fast on life’s highway that at times our brakes fail to work, sending us crashing off the road.  We roll down the streets like nothing is wrong, when all of sudden a blow out sends us swerving out of control.  And here is the sad fact of it all, many us are even aware of these internal problems. Our personal dashboards look like a Christmas tree displaying warnings: “Low Tire Pressure, find some room to breath; Service Maintenance Soon, find a friend or community quickly; Headlight Out, let God direct your path; Low Oil, let the Holy Spirit provide you peace.”


Jesus once said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26a).  My fifteen year old son might say it this way, “For what does it profit us if we paint the outside of our cars, if our engines don’t work under our hoods?”  For the purpose of journeying through life, what’s under the hood is so much more important than what color paint covers the surface of our cars. May we all take time today to look under our hoods and offer the maintenance we need to move forward and live in faith.  

Rediscovering Ishmael and Isaac on 9/11

Historically, cultures have treated Ishmael and Isaac as quarreling brothers, separating them as though they were mutually exclusive from one another.  While religious cultures have bought into this misguided characterization of them, the biblical text offers an alternative view of the brothers separated in conflict but reunited in death.


Ishmael was born into a conflicted situation, with Sarah seeking to rip him from Hagar’s arms in order to make him her own.  Listen closely to Sarah’s words to Abraham, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave girl (Hagar); it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2).  Sarah is not just a woman seeking a son for her husband; she is a barren woman wanting a child for herself, willing to obtain (Hebrew – banah, meaning to construct or fortify) a child by taking him from the arms of the birth mother.  The text does not indict nor acquit her, it simply states the actions of a desperate woman.


Even before Isaac was born, Sarah and Hagar were at odds.  Once with child, a pregnant Hagar looked at Sarah with contempt (16:5).  This angered Sarah, sending her to Abraham to complain.  Withdrawing from his responsibility or not understanding the dire predicament he was facing, Abraham instructs Sarah to do as she pleases with her slave (16:6).  Sarah treats her harshly, sending Hagar fleeing towards her home in Egypt.  However, an angel of the Lord intercedes and informs Hagar her son would also prosper as Abraham’s son.  Hagar returns.


The great conflict that separated the brothers occurred when Sarah witnessed Ishmael “mocking” Isaac.  There is a lot of conjecture as to what the term “mocking” means, but what can be assured is that Sarah did not approve.  What tips us off that this was a conflict between Sarah and Hagar is the fact Ishmael’s name is not used by Sarah.  She calls him, “the son of Hagar the Egyptian.”  She pleads with Abraham to exile Hagar and Ishmael, a certain death sentence for most single mothers wandering the wilderness.  In the end, after being reassured by Yahweh that his eldest son would be blessed, Abraham exiles them, sending them east into the wilderness.  Yahweh keeps his promise, saving Ishmael from a certain death and saving Hagar from having to watch her son perish in the desert heat.  


What are we to ascertain by a careful reading of this account?  The separation of two brothers is a direct result of the actions of others.  Biblical evidence does not support the commonly held belief that a great rift existed between Ishmael and Isaac.  They were separated because others chose to separate them.  And here is the greater moment that we all need to frame in our minds and remember in our hearts; when Abraham dies, the two estranged brothers reunite and bury their father (25:7-9).  This is a very powerful image.  Two brothers separated by sin, brought back together by the death of and love for their father.


It is this final image of two brothers I hold tightly as I reflect on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.  For multiple millenniums, different cultures have quarreled over whom God favors more.  Let us never forget that the brothers were separated not by their own sin, but by the sins of others projecting their prejudices and selfishness upon them.  Let us never forget that love for their father brought them back together.  Let us never forget that if we wish to seek an eternal peace for our post-9/11 world, we too should set down our sinful ways and permit the love of our Father to bring us together.


Happy Birthday 1705 Miles Away

Note: This post was first published in NorthHaven’s August 2016 newsletter.

Google Maps indicates that it is exactly 1,705 miles from Norman, Oklahoma to Boston, Massachusetts.  Seriously, that kind of mileage sounds like a very long distance for two parents saying goodbye to their oldest son.  At the end of August, Missy and I will drop off our oldest at Emerson College in downtown Boston. For almost 19 years, Cole’s jovial presence in our home has brought an uncompromising peace and an infectious laughter to our lives.

As his father, it is still so very difficult for me to believe that the toddler who used to hide behind my leg when we entered church is running off to a major American city to study comedic arts.  This is the same little boy who asked me one Sunday, “Daddy, is there something wrong me?  Everyone keeps saying I’m ‘bashtabble.’”  Missy and I could not be more proud of the young man our son has become.  We know our boys are not perfect, but we love them tremendously and appreciate what it must have been like for them growing up as the sons of a preacher.

For my sons, I remember the voice of King David, as he hoped and prayed for his sons.  In his Pilgrim’s Psalm (#132), David wrote, “If your sons stay true to my Covenant and learn to live the way I teach them, Their sons will continue the line—always a son to sit on your throne.”  As my oldest son leaves to carve out his own way in the world, my hopes and prayers go with him.  His mother and I have instilled our thoughts and faith as best we can.  They are his to take and do with as he sees fit, but we will always pray for our boys no matter the distance and no matter the season.

1705 miles is a great distance between two parents and their child, but our love and prayers will shorten that distance over time.  And speaking of time, there is only 1353 days until Cole graduates, but who’s counting?  Please show Missy and I a little more grace this month as we may seem a little preoccupied or depressed.  In the end, we are overjoyed for our son and can’t wait to see what he achieves.  1705 miles is a long way from home, but worth every mile for the journey he about to take.

Growing Up After 9/11

The Apostle Paul penned these words to the church in Corinth, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).  For some reason, this verse has come to mind as I reflect on the Fifteenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001.  On that fateful day, Americans were reborn to the harsh reality of evil among us and an opportunity to respond in righteousness.


The harsh reality galvanized when we discerned there were enemies in this world that hated us so much they were willing to fly airplanes into buildings.  The opportunity before us was the razor thin line between rising above the hate to become a beacon of hope or becoming what we despise in our enemies.  The socio-political struggle over the last fifteen years has been intense, from seeking justice for those who caused such harm to invading a country under false reasons.  


More personally, I have come a long way since watching terror unfold that day.  I like to believe that I have grown up just a tad.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am no way arguing that I have arrived.  I still have a lot of learning and maturing to do.  However, I feel like I understand the world a little better than I did fifteen years ago.  More than anything, I especially have taken it upon myself to work towards understanding Islam and its people.  Knowledge and community are always the punch and counter-punch to hatred and intolerance.  


Fifteen years ago, I had no idea what Muslims believed; I did not even know one personally.  Since then, I have traveled to foreign countries, some regions with populations that are 95% Muslim.  I have read and re-read books about the Muslim faith, engaged Muslims in dialogue, worked alongside them for the common good of society, and attempted to place myself in their shoes.  Now, one of my favorite colleagues – someone I consider a true friend – is Imam Imad Enchassi of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.  As he likes to chide, “We are brothers from different mothers!”


One would think after fifteen years, our society would have grown up regarding the relationship between Christians and Muslims.  At times, though, the opposite seems true.   While some have educated themselves to discern the difference between true religion and power-politics, others buy into the false allegation that Christianity and Islam are responsible for this conflict.  Let me be crystal clear on this point: any violence conducted in the name of Christianity or Islam has nothing to do with religion, but is simply a political power play using religious language as a tool to manipulate the masses and provide an unjust reason for an unjust action.  The wars and rumors of wars we witness today are about exerting power over others, nothing more and nothing less.  They are not about true religion, no matter what their proponents attempt to declare.


While this stark reality seems to overshadow the world these days, I choose to believe there is hope.  During the last fifteen years, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have initiated dialogue in an attempt to better understand one another.  We have worked together in relief efforts after natural disasters.  We have come to each other’s side with support when attacked out of hatred.  We have established our solidarity as people of faith walking along the same peaceful journey which Abraham wished for his descendants.  

Fifteen years have passed since that day America changed, since the world changed.  We have walked a tightrope between maintaining our hope for a more perfect union and falling into the trap of isolationist bigotry.  When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child, but now as we move into our adolescence in a post-9/11 world, let us speak and act as emerging adults.  Let us set aside ignorance and biases.  Let us eliminate any hatred that fills our heart and fuels our attitudes.  Let’s put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-5), embracing the world with our arms open and our ears ready to listen.  

Keeping Up Appearances

For many years, the Public Broadcasting Network introduced Americans to the genius of British comedies.  From Are You Being Served? to The Vicar of Dibley, these comedies enticed laughter while making us Yanks a bit uncomfortable.  One of the best comedies ever produced was Keeping Up Appearances, written by Roy Clarke and starring Patricia Routledge.  


The sitcom followed the life of Routledge’s character, Hyacinth Bucket (she pronounced it “Bouquet” though).  The show placed Hyacinth in numerous situations where her character would attempt to maintain her British dignity and charm, all the time failing quite miserably.  She so wanted everyone to think of her as something she wasn’t, high born and royally regal.  This, of course, produced an incredible amount of laughs through the show’s five year run.  


What has made Hyacinth so successful is that many within the culture, both in Britain and America, can directly relate to her.  For the most part, we are all trying to “keep up appearances” to our spouses, families, friends, co-workers, and the world at large.  We hide behind a façade that veils the disappointment and sorrow we carry around with us.  In public, we put a smile on our faces and spend money we don’t have in order to project something we are not.  This game of “keeping up appearances” has become a true religion.


In his new book, The Market as God, Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, argues that the techniques of a capitalistic marketplace have penetrated the church, but more so have been instilled within the everyday life of Christians.  Christians must now look the part of a wealthy, successful, and healthy community of faith.  If we project anything less than perfection, then we are construed as a flawed product that will be rejected in the marketplace.  


This new wave of Christianity seems to conflict with the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  Or, when addressing the blind pursuit of wealth (more than mere money by the way), Jesus proclaimed, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).



As Jesus followers, we must always be cautious about our pursuit of wealth and success.  Wealth and success are not evils into themselves, for money makes the world go around and there are numerous successful people that have done some incredible things with their resources.  However, when we begin to falsify ourselves before others in order to keep up appearances, then we are lying to ourselves and lying to God.  We need to be more honest and genuine.  We need to live within our means, but more importantly we need to live in a way that points people to God and away from worldly pursuits.  


Earthquakes and Pipelines: What are we doing to God’s Creation?

Over the Labor Day weekend, I was reminded of the colossal struggle between humanity and God’s creation.  On Saturday morning, Missy and I woke to our house shaking violently.  Amazingly, as soon as it happened, I somehow knew exactly what was occurring.   Earthquake.  Since moving back to Oklahoma almost ten years ago, I find it very strange that I can immediately recognize an earthquake as soon as the earth begins to rock-and-roll.    My surprise gave way to worry, however, later on in the day when I read Oklahoma earthquakes have increased 5,000% as early as two years ago.  Why?


Shortly after the 5.6 earthquake startled people from Texas to Nebraska, Oklahoma state officials shut down 37 of the state’s 3,200 active disposal wells.  Disposal wells are a technique used by the oil and gas industry that pushes wastewater deep underground, even deeper than where oil and gas are found.  According to CNN Money, “The wastewater mostly consists of a substance called brine — a mix of water and chemicals that comes to the surface with oil and gas when they are pumped from the Earth.”  In addition, “A small portion is also the water that’s pumped underground in the modern hydraulic fracturing process, a drilling technique often referred to as fracking.”


If state officials (some even hostile to those suggesting a connection between quakes and wells) immediately shut down these wells after Saturday’s quake, then what do they know that they are not telling the public?  Now, I have many close friends and church members in the oil and gas industry.  These are good people, working in an industry that has served the world for a number of years.  Even they are now starting to question what is going on with these wells.  Therefore, I think the time has come to seriously consider shutting these wells down, seek better techniques for drilling, and continue supporting the energy industry’s transformation into cleaner fuels.


Later on that Saturday morning, after I assessed there was no damage to my house, I read a story about the conflict between the Dakota Access Pipeline Energy Transfer Partners and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  The pipeline’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners, has invested $3.7 billion into the 1,172-mile pipeline that would carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois.  According to tribal officials, Energy Transfer Pipeline used bulldozers over the weekend to destroy burial sites, prayer sites, and culturally significant artifacts.  In response, the conflict escalated, with violence breaking out between protestors and security guards.  


Reading this story has sent my head spinning.  First, where are local and state police during this encounter to stave off violent conflicts?  Second, why are these pipelines always constructed across Native American lands and not through white-suburban neighborhoods?  Third, how would anyone respond if a company came into the cemetery where your great-grandparents were buried and began to destroy it?  There has to be a better way for progress to move forward without destroying the sacred culture of the indigenous people and address their ecological concerns.  Unfortunately, it appears progress-for-profit is winning the day.


Both the earthquake and the pipeline stories have troubled my soul this weekend.  We live in a time of unprecedented global change.  Progress has come to us through lightening expansion, rapid production, and even faster consumption.  Humanity’s thirst for progress brought about the Reformation, Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, Technological Revolution, and Globalization.  None of these are bad per say, but our progress has developed some unintended consequences, consequences we must be honest about and willing to address.  Progress has brought about greater needs for a greater number of people.  Progress has, in the words of Thomas Friedman, made the world “Hot, Flat, and Crowded.”  


Therefore, we need to be reminded the world is God’s creation and He has given us the responsibility to take care of it.  The world does not spin around our egocentric existence, but rotates by the Spirit of God interacting with this created ecosystem that was masterfully designed and brilliantly woven.  German theologian Jürgen Moltmann helps describe the problem in his book, “Ethics of Hope,”


“Yet the biosphere of the blue planet earth is our limited space for living. A human civilization that spans the world and is based on growth and consumption has long since arrived at these limits and is beginning permanently to destroy the living conditions of this living space in the earth’s organism. Year after year, animal and plant species are becoming extinct; atmospheric pollution is destroying the ozone layer and raising the climatic temperature; the polar ice caps are melting; the water level of the oceans is rising; the deserts are spreading, and storms and hurricanes are on the increase. We know all this, or we can know it, but it is as if we were paralyzed, changing neither our economic growth ideology nor our private and public way of life. We are not acting on what we know” (Moltmann, 131-132).


Moltmann continues with a very dire warning for a humanity that has been charged as caretakers of God’s creation,


“If Darwin is right and human beings and apes have a common ancestry, this means the end of the human being’s godlike position. As the Bible says, he is formed of the earth and can fulfill his specific human tasks only within the community of creation. Since we have come to realize that it is the religious-scientific anthropocentricism of modern times which has brought us to the present ecological crisis of nature and human civilization, we no longer see Darwin’s evolutionary theory as an attack on Christian anthropology, but begin to understand that the human being belongs to the same family as other living things on this fruitful earth. That is ultimately also the substance of the covenant with Noah, with which creation begins afresh after the Flood. It is a covenant ‘with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature’ (Gen. 9.9–10). So all living creatures are God’s covenant partners and our covenant partners too” (Moltmann, 324).


One earthquake and one confrontation between an oil company and Native Americans might not seem like a lot, but over time these incidents have accumulated to reveal a severe problem that humanity must now address.  From a theocentric vantage point, it appears God’s creation is at war with itself.  While humanity has thought itself to be the “Big Dog on The Rock” for all this time, we might just discover that “The Rock” is stronger and more durable than we ever imagined.  If threatened, the earth might just fight back (i.e., stronger earthquakes, more powerful hurricanes, flooding rains, and bone dry droughts).  As a follower of Jesus, I can no longer stand silent.  The time for humanity to explore alternate clean energy resources is upon us.  We have the best and brightest in the energy world (this includes in the oil and gas industry as well), so for the sake of God, the Creator of us all, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work making His planet healthy again.