Posts Tagged ‘unbelief’

The first step is belief. “I believe you; I believe what you are saying; I believe YOU are speaking truth.” But the next step is critical, when the listener moves belief into the realm of faith. Here is where the content has meaning for the listener. And here belief can grow.

Hebrews 4:2
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.

Life in the Spirit is cyclical. With this scripture, I understand it even more than before. Belief prepares the ground of my heart to have faith, that confidence in things not seen or proven. And when faith expands, then I am able to understand more of the “message.” I understand more about the messenger.

As soon as I give room to doubt, the process slows down. It still works, but more methodically. The doubter is looking for more to believe, more information, more facts, more stories, more exposure. And when all goes well, the tipping point is reached and the process begins again.

“Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [John 20:27]

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In several places Paul tells his followers to trust his message because his very life is a testament to his faith. In today’s world, there are those we know and have known, whether they are friends or family, and because we know them, we trust them. Or do we?

II Timothy 3:14
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, . . .

Trust is a funny thing. It can be taken for granted or it can be nurtured consciously and strengthened over time. The longer and deeper I know someone, the more likely I am to discern whether he/she is trust “worthy.” Relationships are built on trust because people must be transparent to be trusted. Without transparency, the foundations of a relationship are built on sand. And yet, despite, weeks or months or years of building trust, it can be broken with a single word, a single act, a single observation.

As soon as mistrust raises its unholy head, there’s hell to pay. Rebuilding trust after a betrayal (whether perceived or real) takes longer than the first time around. We place the other under the microscope and we find additional reasons to “not” trust. We look for the lie. We look for the secrets. We expect the worst.

I believe this “breaking of trust” moment must be examined carefully and weighed against knowledge and familiarity and love.

In the past week, I have seen three relationships within my immediate family ripped apart (possibly in a permanent way) because of broken trust. Somehow, whatever was known about each other before that moment came, was not enough to stay the doubt and suspicion, to balance the scale of possibilities, to hold the cracks together. Whether it’s teenagers falling in and out love or mature adults running from the possibility of being hurt yet again, the process is the same and one or the other says, “I don’t believe you.”

And then, on top of that, in a public forum, I witnessed palpable abusiveness and accusations because of a perceived certainty that trust was broken. I wanted to stand up and yell, “Stop! You’re talking about my friend, you’re calling into question the integrity of someone I have known for twenty years.” I trust my friend. I trust my friend’s intentions. And it hurt me to watch the bubbling cauldron of bitterness and rejection. The words were different, but it sounded the same, “I don’t believe you.”

And that’s when I saw it, this moment of decision, to stand by what has been shared and spoken before, to remember the conviviality and the good intentions, to hold fast to the history. . . or not.

Paul tells Timothy to trust in the truth of what he has learned from his mentor, from his friends, and from his family. This is Paul’s last letter to his protege. Many, many people attacked Paul in the same way that the authorities attacked Jesus. They called them liars, fakes, and charlatans. They called them destroyers and divisive elements in the faith.

Who will we choose to trust in that moment when the vase is about to shatter? Who will we believe?

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How do I convince someone that what I’m saying is the truth? I mean, really! People lie all the time. Show me a person who says he/she doesn’t lie and I’ll show you someone who is lying. It’s human nature: a slight embellishment, a minor distortion, a self-protection. And yet, when it’s really important . . .

Galatians 1:11, 20
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. . . . I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

How can I “make” someone believe me? Answer? I can’t.

“I believe you” must first be built on a foundation of trust. If trust is missing or lost, all bets are off. As soon as trust is broken, it’s a very long road back to acceptance. Betrayal is the antithesis of trust. They cannot co-exist.

In Galatians, Paul is trying to remind those churches of the bedrock he laid down for them while he was among them. Jesus did the same thing before his final sacrifice, he built trust and believability. He didn’t just walk up to people and say, “By the way, I’m the Son of God and I’ll be dying for your sins.” He would have been led to the nearest loony bin.

It’s really a simple equation: to the degree that I trust a person, it’s the same degree to which I will believe.

I trust God. I trust Christ.

But here’s what I’m thinking. The next time I don’t believe someone, I need to figure out what would change my mind. What is my criteria for trust? And the same in reverse. When someone doesn’t believe me, I must ask, “what do you need from me to believe me?” If there is no paradigm, then I can’t shift it. If the person cannot articulate what is needed to bring change, no change can happen. And that reality works both ways as well.

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The right words at the right moment touch the heart and something happens. It can be a moment in a play or a movie, a speech or a book, even a casual conversation or in the midst of instruction. And when that word pierces the inner self, we are changed.

I Corinthians 14:24-25a
But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.

I saw this happen some years ago while in a church service. I had a friend who had been struggling with lifestyle decisions. He was like a feather being tossed about, looking for a safe place to land. I invited him to a Vineyard church service in Atlanta (back then, such services were cutting edge and specifically geared for the younger set). After the service, one of the guys asked my friend if a small group could pray for him and my friend agreed. It was during this prayer that someone in the group spoke a “prophecy” over my friend about an impending choice in his life. She told him of his past and his fears. She spoke specifics about his life and my friend’s heart was laid bare. It was the most amazing thing to observe. He knew, in that moment, beyond any doubt, that he had been touched by the divine.

That day is seared into my own memory, not only because of the time in church, but the deep soul searching my friend had the rest of the afternoon. He would go through periods of shaking and crying and even laughing. He would sit silently and then he would talk, deeply and honestly, about his life, his future, his mistakes, his losses, his hopes and his disappointments. He turned a corner that day and for many years, he followed a new dream because of that day.

I remember a different experience, also in my late twenties, when my own heart was ripped wide open. It is not a particularly pleasant memory as it was a searing, rending of emotions that brought me to my knees. I had only been a follower of Christ for about two years when I had a terrible row with a creative, yet highly volatile man, with whom I was trying to build a dance/theater company in New York. His harsh words stripped me bare of any illusions about my craft, my direction, my role. I left our rehearsal and walked the parking lot, sobbing, crying out to God, stripping myself of assumptions, and casting myself at the feet of Christ. That day changed my path forever.

When the heart is truly laid bare, it can happen gently with love or it can happen with wrenching pain. Often, the pain comes from our own efforts to keep the heart’s shield up, to attempt to protect ourselves.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” [Psalm 24:7] For me, this verse refers to the gates and ancient doors of my heart that must be open to allow the King of glory to come in. I have to trust God will not hurt me. I have to permit entry. And only when my heart is laid bare, the doors open, can I be renewed.

I would like to report that my heart has been open the whole time since that fateful day, but it has not. In fact, each time my heart has been trashed by someone, I tend to add locks and bars to those doors. God forgive me.

Today, I am being called to begin this process once more: the unlocking of doors, the lifting up of gates, the laying bare of my inner heart again. It’s a risk. It’s always a risk. It’s another paradox: to find safety, I must be more vulnerable. So be it.

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Luke 1:42, 45
In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!… Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!

And all I can think about is that Mary, despite all that she had heard and seen and felt (in her own body), she still ran to her cousin, Elizabeth seeking wisdom, seeking confirmation. And there was no waiting for it. All was true just as she imagined it was. All was confirmed in a moment by Elizabeth’s proclamation before Mary could say one word.

And once Mary heard it, she received her confirmation … and she accepted it. From that day forth, I don’t believe she waivered about her role in birth of an man anointed by God, a king, the Messiah.

How often do we ask for confirmation and despite the giving, we ask again. That’s not persistence, that’s a chink in our faith. Forgive me, Father. I believe. Help me in my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

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