Assurance vs. Certainty

I had a fun twitter debate (tweebate?) with my ol’ college pal Matt (@ireadtheology).

I posted this:

“There is a difference between assurance and certainty. Assurance requires faith. Certainty does not.”

This verse is part of what inspired the above statement:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Now The point is not that certainty is the opposite of faith.  Rather, certainty is not the point of faith.

1 Corinthians 13:9-12  9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Some day God’s people will have absolute certainty, and our faith will be fulfilled.  Until that day we must be content with assurance that God is at work, that God has a plan, that God’s promises are true.  And God is trustworthy.  These promises and plans of God will come to pass.  I can have confidence in God through my faith.

The reason that this is important is because Certainty is a stumbling block for those who are seeking God.  Also Certainty is often used as a weapon towards those who disagree with you..  The rhetoric of Certainty builds walls instead of bridges to the world.

When we claim that we are certain then people expect us to have all the answers.  I can’t do that.

When we claim that we are certain we read the Bible looking for proofs and it becomes a science text book.  And I don’t think that’s the purpose of the Bible.

My Faith tells me that God Created the world.  If I’m completely honest with you, I’m not 100% certain how God did that.  The Bible gives us a 6 day creation.  I still don’t know how that happened.  If God created the world in 6 days, and rested on the 7th.  I have enough faith to say that God could do that (he is God after all).  But I don’t have enough certainty to fight someone over it.

The Bible tells me that Jesus died on the Cross for my Sins.  I have to accept that by faith because I really have no idea how that all works.  I don’t have a certain answer for what that would look like, and the process for how Jesus applies that grace to cover over my sins.  My faith is big enough to accept that though, and live in that promise.

Can I be honest with people and tell them I’m not certain how all this works, and I don’t have all the answers, and I have moments of doubt and confusion, where all I have to cling to is my faith.

Does that make me a bad Christian? Does that make me a bad Pastor?  Or is that exactly what Jesus wanted from his followers when he said”

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18:2-4)

My children are not looking for certainty in our relationship.  I have to live in a way that gives them assurance that I will always love them and always be there for them.  That assurance is pretty close to certainty for them because they have no reason to doubt it.

Example:  On wednesday morning my daughter woke up at 4:30 AM crying and came out into the hallway.  When I came to her I asked her what was wrong and she said, “I need a hug.”

In that moment I can be angry and tell her, “No, it’s night time, and you need to go back to bed.”  Or I can give her the hug that she’s looking for in the middle of the night and assure her that her daddy is always there to give her a hug.

So I gave her a hug and she went right back to bed.

Joss has assurance that I love her, and that’s all she needs right now.

We can have assurance the God loves us and has provided grace to us through the Cross of Christ.  And that assurance is good enough for me.


Thoughts On Vision Prayer

Thanks to everyone who came out to vision prayer last night.  Such an encouraging time of community prayer and worship.

Events like vision prayer are where the church gets to be the Family of Christ.  Sunday gatherings are designed for guest.  It’s like inviting the neighbors over for the party.  Vision Prayer is where we do the household work.  And the work of the household of Christ is Prayer and worship.

We cannot (and should not try to) do the work of the church with out first going to the Lord in prayer.

It was great to have a time of encouragement from team members.  To pray with and for the staff.  To keep Jesus and his mission central in all things that we do at Creekside.

Looking forward to the next one.

Giving and Receiving / Closed Hand or Open Hand?

I had a conversation the other day that troubled me.  It forced me to check my priorities.  It comes down to giving and receiving.

I have to thank Mark Driscoll for giving me this image of Closed and Open Handed

In life we can be a closed handed or open handed.

I think the tendency is to look at our lives and our accomplishments, careers, family, stuff, dreams and aspirations and put them in a closed hand.  This is my stuff, this is my career, this is my time, this is my money.

I don’t think this is gospel living at all.

We don’t own the gospel we receive it.  And we can’t receive anything with closed hands.  If we are so focused on holding on to our stuff then we will miss out on receiving the things that God wants to bring into our lives.

If we live with an open hand we realize that all the things that are in our lives are temporary and we are not owners but stewards.

It’s not your time, it’s not your money, it’s not your family, it’s not your career, it’s not your stuff.  All things things are gifts from God.  If you want to honor God with your whole life then you need to hold all these things with an open hand.  You have to be willing to let go of some things to receive something else.

If I am not willing to give these blessings back to God then I should not expect to receive any other blessings from God.  If I hold on to these blessings to tightly, I will kill them.

So who are you?  Are you a closed hand or an open hand person?

Brussels Sprouts and Jesus

I had a recent conversation about sharing the good news with people who are not Christians.  Just that term, sharing the good news is problematic.  It has so much baggage associated with it.  So do evangelism, witnessing, etc.  When we use terms like this we bring our baggage into talking about Jesus into these conversations.  We bring our fears, anxieties and insecurities.

And you know what.  The people we are talking to have their own problems with the Gospel too.  I think it usually is because they have had a bad, painful, hurtful, or just plain awkward presentation of the Gospel.

It’s kind of like brussels sprouts.  Growing up I did not like brussels sprouts.  They were gross and I didn’t ever want to eat them.  I knew this to be true because of th bad presentation of brussels sprouts that I grew up with.  They were gross and they were always going to be gross.

Then one day I ate brussels sprouts that were prepared really well, and presented with care.  It changed my perspective on brussels sprouts.  It all came down to the preparation and presentation.

I think when it comes to talking about Jesus, we need to take greater care in our preparation and presentation.  We prepare through prayer and building our own relationship with Jesus.  And the presentation cannot simply be a quick and careless discussion.  If we are going to change the way people think about the Gospel we need to take care with our presentation.

The greatest presentation of the Gospel is a life that supports our words.  If you want people to try something that they think they won’t like, you have to change the presentation.  You have to give them a reason to try something old in a new way.

Research, Writing And Conversation Partners

I write this as I am sitting in a Barnes & Noble Cafe.  I’ve spent the last two hours reading a book called Holy Laughter.  It’s a collection of essays edited by M. Conrad Hyers.  There are several thought provoking chapters in this text, and I’m glad I found it.  Over the past few months I have been trying to get my hands on as many texts by Hyers as I can, he has done a lot of work on Comedy, Humor and Christian Faith.  Hyers is rising as one of my primary conversation partners as I begin writing my thesis.

Whenever I am writing I am aware that I am not working entirely in my own mind.  But I am interacting with a world of ideas.  I often feel like I’m hosting a dinner party and the guests include, Barth, St. Paul, Nietzsche, C.S. Lewis, Marc Maron, St. Mark, Jesus, Jim Gaffigan, N.T. Wright and a host of others.  All of these people I have been reading about, listening to, and I’m trying to help them see how they are connected and similar to each other.

The challenge at such a dinner party is that a Nietzsche and Lewis really disagree on some fundamental beliefs, and so I feel like my nice dinner could explode at any minute with food flying and fists crashing into my face.

But on the other hand, the conversations that are possible when bringing all these thinkers together is enlightening and exciting.  And I want to tell people about the connections that were made between two disparate conversation partners.  The challenge is putting the synthesis of ideas that happens in my imaginary dinner party into words that are accessible to people who weren’t there.

That’s essential the challenge of writing.  Be it a sermon, a paper, a thesis, even a joke, if I can’t share the connection that are being made in my head, then all is lost, and the dinner party was a waste of everyone’s time.  Well not everyone’s time because so far Nietzsche has remained civil and Maron hasn’t alienated everyone else by dealing with all his own issues. And Gaffigan keeps the conversation light by pointing out the absurdity of seafood.


Super Heroes in Seattle

As somebody who grew up reading comic books and still enjoys a good graphic novel today.  I remember asking myself as a young man, what would it take to actually become a crime fighting vigilante.  I realized early on (around 4th grade baseball when I really sucked and didn’t get a hit all season) that I would never have the skills required to roam the streets fighting crime and dispensing immediate justice on the hordes of villians that terrorized my quaint Kirkland neighborhood.

Even though my dreams were crushed early that did not mean that super heroes would not emerge some day, some where.  And now they have.  In Seattle of all places.  The video above recounts an event where Phoenix Jones stopped a car burglarly in process.  This happened in Lynnwood.  That’s where I live.  I will sleep better knowing that this guy is out there.  His arsenal is not as impressive as Batman’s but even Bruce Wayne had to start some where.

Now . . . about those super powers he’s lacking.  I will immediately begin research on radioactive bugs . . .

Getting Over Myself, or, Let Jesus Do His Work

I recently came across a website for a ministry that my gut reaction to was, “Really?!”

It had something to do with men beating each other up in tight shorts and Ed Hardee style clothes.  I’ll be the first to admit, I really don’t get the appeal of UFC or MMA or any of those things.  I never enjoyed seeing people in real life get punched in the face.

So when I saw this ministry I scoffed.  My attitude was simply, “Is this what Jesus really wants his church to be doing?”

But then I remembered that the people who love MMA and UFC and all that are also loved by Jesus.  And while I will probably never watch a fight or go to anything like that, that doesn’t mean that Jesus would stay away too.  The Gospel of Jesus needs to be worked into all areas of life.

My opinions about cultural trends are not the same as Jesus’ opinions.  I need to get over myself and let Jesus do his work through those guys, and pray that Jesus also continues to do his work through me.

I realized that my attitude at seeing this UFC outreach was very pharisaical.  Jesus did ministry differently than the religious establishment of his day.  I need to get out of his way and let him continue to do his work.

Here are some things that I think are untapped areas of outreach

Comedy – Not christian comedy clubs but christians going to comedy clubs and being friends with comedians.  Even the post op transgendered individual.  Comedy = tragedy + time.  How can we love people who get on stage and talk about their pain every night?  How can christians do Comedy where they talk openly about pain and the foibles of humanity?

Comic Books – Not christians making comic books about the end times, angels, or whatever.  What if Christians actually had conversations about Batman, X-men, Superman, etc. What if Christians got really good at drawing and writing for these stories instead of trying to do something “christian”.

Literature – I’d love to write a book to a mainstream audience that tells a redemptive story, without being pigeonholed into the Christian Section of the Christian Bookstore. Tolkien and Lewis were able to do it.  Can Christians do that today?  Can we write fantasy stories, or even a murder mystery that’s redemptive?

What else?

What are the things that you think are great opportunites to reveal redemption to the world?

The other question is will our churches let Christians do these things?  Will we get out of Jesus’ way?