Archive for the ‘Struggles with faith’ Category

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Eat my what?

In Bethany North,God's calling,Jesus,Struggles with faith on March 14, 2013 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

Have you seen this video?  It’s a little boy getting cochlear implants and hearing his mother’s voice for the first time.  Think about that.  Your mother’s voice for the first time.  Unless you had never heard your mother’s voice- you wouldn’t understand.


We’ve been talking about Jesus lately at church…I know, I know…crazy right?  But think about this.:  Jesus says “I am the light of the world.”  That is only good news if you had no light or you had never seen.  Jesus says “I am the bread of life” and that is only good news if you were hungry.  It got me thinking- what do we actually need Jesus for?  And how does Jesus help a community that doesn’t need Him?  Unless we recognize our brokenness and low places- we’ll never need a Savior.  Early in Jesus ministry He went home to continue to heal people and do some of the miracles He had been performing in other places.  But they didn’t need Him- they didn’t recognize Him as anything other than “Mary and Joseph’s boy.”  And then the scriptures tell us in Luke 4: Jesus left.  Because if a community doesn’t need Him, Jesus takes His presence elsewhere.

I don’t know about you- but I’ve been especially aware lately that I need a savior.  Not in a religious, pastor type way.  But in a broken, “I’m not quite good enough” type way.  No, I can’t do life very good on my own.  I need help often to cling to the hope in this broken world.  To cling to peace in my own interior life that can feel such anguish and stress.  Yes I’m the broken.  I’m the deaf.  I’m the poor in spirit.  I’m the hungry.

bread of life wonderbreadThis last Sunday we took a look at this weird passage in John 6 where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” and then encourages His followers to “Eat my flesh and drink My blood”.  You can find the passage here.  To be sure, it’s a hard passage to understand.  Imagine hearing this message from Jesus.  Eat flesh.  Drink blood.  Bread of life.  What does it mean?  And better yet, who can do it???  Who can possibly follow the guidelines of this new brand of religion?  This man Jesus must be crazy!   How can I possibly do everything right to follow Him?

The genius here on Jesus part is simply this:  I can’t.  I can’t do it.  I can’t eat the flesh and drink the blood.  Jesus moves from Law “do these things and all will be ok” to a purely impractical statement.  Why???  Why does Jesus sometimes talk like this?  Because you can’t do it on your own!  We need Jesus to enter into the best life possible.

In this passage Jesus had just taken 5 fish and 2 loaves of bread and in a miracle, He fed literally thousands of people.  How does this work?  Because Jesus ushers in a new economy where 5 fish + 2 loaves= ENOUGH.  God’s economy doesn’t make sense to me.  Its not balanced budget- it’s the radical grace of God.  This doesn’t make sense to me and so I cling to my radical self-sufficiency.  I doubt that Jesus can take the 5 fish and 2 loaves of my spiritual life and weave it into something beautiful.  So I feel slow to trust Him.  And then I finally realize- my “economy” that makes such logical sense – really isn’t working for me.  Trusting myself and my own ends leads me to places of feeling bankrupt.  And in these places I yell out to God: ‘I can’t do this!”  I cry out and I fail and then I cling to Him.  Perhaps this is what Jesus means- He is the bread of life.  Because on my own I just always feel hungry.  But when I’m following Jesus I have a wholeness, a fullness, not of my own strength but of His.

I’ll be preaching about this need for Jesus a bit this Sunday at Bethany North at 9:15 and 11- if you’re in town you should stop by.  Maybe we could do this journey together.

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The Compass

In Family and Marriage,God's great love,Hurt,Keeping it Real,Questions,Struggles with faith on August 7, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

“You think you have problems?”  This is the line from my friend Jenni’s recent FB post that stopped me in my tracks:

“The joke in our house is “You think you have problems?”… because we know we don’t. We have a life full of blessings. We may have sadness and grief but it is only because of the joy and love that have blessed us. I’m so thankful that I was able to grow that little angel and then spend 25 beautiful hours with her… what an amazing gift for a simple girl like me. I wouldn’t trade one minute of the joy for less sadness, I am so grateful for each of my children.”

Yes Jenni is grateful for each of her children.  But the difference than other people with this same perspective, is Jenni has just delivered a baby girl Abby and after 25 hours, watched her pass away.  Jenni and her husband Trever have two healthy children but their third was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 halfway through their pregnancy.  Some people terminate these pregnancies; Trevor and Jenni chose to nurture her and love her and let her body develop in utero- even though they knew Abby wouldn’t survive more than a few days in the world.  You can read their journey on their blog here.  These people have such strength, not of their own, but clinging to faith in God.  A few days after baby Abby’s passing, Jenni wrote:
“[Please pray] for our continued strength is all I can think of. That we have the strength to enjoy each day, be present and patient with our children, feel the grief when it comes and generally not hide from ourselves, our pain and our joy.”

Though they are hurting- and the hurt of a lost child knows no greater pain- they cling to the hope and power of Christ to hold them together.  I’m humbled and encouraged by their example of true faith in the hardest of times.

I have another friend in our church who underwent a double mastectomy on Friday.  I ran into her at church last week and she grabbed me, with tears standing at the corners of her eyes, and said, “thank you, that was the perfect message for me.  We are clinging to Christ even though we don’t understand what’s next.”

See I had just preached on Colossians 2 and that Paul teaches us to have “hearts that are encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ Himself.”  Paul’s encouragement to ‘cling to the knowledge of mystery’ seems to be a paradox- until we acknowledge that Jesus is the one thing we can seek and cling to in this life despite the great cloud of unknowing we face when struggles overwhelm us.  In the sermon, I told the story of being a new fishing guide at 13 when I took my clients 20 minutes in my boat into the fog and because of a variety of reasons, I took my eyes off of the compass.  Without radar or GPS on the boat, the one navigation tool I possessed was the boat’s compass.  But I let my eyes focus on the distractions instead of the one tool that could actually get me to where I was going.  The dense fog, my fishing customer’s apprehension, the passing cruise ship, and a huge tide moved our boat out of position and we very nearly got very, very lost.  It wasn’t until I saw a glimpse of hope in a far away shore and once again refocused on my compass, than I got to where I was going.

My point?  For many of us, we take our eyes off our compass.  We don’t mean to do this and believe me, it happens to us all.  We allow our faith to become a Sunday ritual; our times of prayer and bible reading get laid aside for more important tasks like checking email, doing housework, or checking Facebook.  But slowly, our eyes drift off the one source of life:  Jesus.  The bible tells us Jesus is the one compass that can lead us through life.   Need to be reminded of this?  Re-read Luke 7 and watch how Jesus heals people, takes pity on people misjudged in society, and is the one true source of real life.  Jesus ends Luke 7 with these simple words: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Is your life one marked by Jesus’ peace right now?  Are you putting faith in Him as the compass to lead you somewhere?  Or are you clinging to the changing currents of hard situations or less than perfect circumstances?  I know 2 women right now who are a true inspiration to me- teaching me that Jesus can still be the compass in the darkest of times.  I hope their story is an encouragement to you as well.

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Leaving the Fog

In God's great love,Practicing Solitude,Struggles with faith,The Journey on July 13, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: ,

 Ever feel like you’re in a fog?  Like things feel a bit harder than normal?  And you need some good news?  Something to melt away the fog?

That has been me these last few days.  I’m in the midst of living away from my family this week as I returned to Canada to continue the fishing business and the family stayed home.  With a few bumps recently in the pregnancy, it didn’t make sense for this trip to haul Heather and all the kids back up here.  So I’m working while they are together, there in Edmonds, so far from here.

This loneliness has chewed on my soul this week, a gnawing restless and weary state that has me in a detached state of mind.  When our core is unsettled, all is unsettled.  I’ve had an unsettled soul.  I’ve been sleeping bad- waking up in the morning with sore jaw muscles from stressing all night.  One night I had terrible dreams of people trying to do me harm.  My soul has been aching.  I’ve been in a fog.

Where do you go when you find yourself in this place?  What do you do?  We all get in these fogs at times- how do we carve our way out?  I haven’t had tons of answers this week as I continue to work and struggle for meaning away from those I love.  Yesterday, just 12 hours after the fog of the picture above, the sun broke over the inside passage dawn in amazing ways.  I opened my bible and just begged for God to give me some nourishment for my weary soul.  “God,” I said, “I really need some strength today.  Some power.  Something good.”  We come to these spots where we need God to meet us in our broken spaces.

From Acts:  “The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’

Yes, I’m the God created.  And God wants me to seek Him, and live and move in Him, and be alive.  Yes, this is what I needed.  Yes this is the true that has been muddled in a tough and emotional week.  God wants me to be filled up.

With hope again ringing in my ears and the mist of the spiritual and metaphorical ( and literal) fog clearing, I grabbed one of the kayaks at the water’s edge and paddled around Meynell Point to witness the sun come up.  The water was glass and nobody was near and I paddled down into the little bay by the freshwater creek running past the bluff.  Herring jumped and broke the otherwise still water.  A pair of eagles flew over and then sat on trees above me.  I sat there and let the kayak just drift along with the tide.  And I held onto those words, “we’re the God created.  He’s not remote, He’s near!”

It was so pure and refreshing and recharging its hard to put it into words.  But it was medicine for my weary soul.  It was the good news I was clinging to.  The hope I desired.  When we seek Him, He doesn’t hide Himself.  God wants us to be aware of His nearness.  We go to the bible to remember this, and then we step outside, into His workshop to see with our own eyes the wonders He has created.

Thank you Lord for the reminder.  Thank you for the peace.  Thank you for melting the fog.  Thank you for being near.  I love you.  -Scott

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The Story of Randall

In Hurt,Questions,Struggles with faith,Uncategorized on May 18, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

If you were at church last week you heard a moving story about Randall Cunningham and Psalm 126.  Psalm 126 teaches us that God is faithful to us, even in the midst of great struggles and heart aches.  The psalmist promises, “Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy.”  The exegesis here is overly simplistic, but the gist is this: take your hurts to God.  Take your pain to God.  Reinvest our seeds of discontent in the soil of God Himself, and He will work with us to make us new.

We discussed Randall Cunningham, who went from NFL hero to despair when he was benched.  He found Christ and returned to the NFL to a record season and a place of joy he hadn’t known before.  And then instead of winning the NFC championship and playing in his first Super Bowl, his team lost on the last second.  He returned to Las Vegas where he had grown up and started a church and started baptizing people in his hot tub at his home.  A year later he returned to Philly to be inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame and brought his son Christian with him (picture below).  Not long after, Randall returned home to find police cars and ambulances waiting for him.  His beloved son Christian had drowned- in the same hot tub.

The pain of a parent who has lost a child is unspeakable.  Let us just pause and sit with that for a while.  I can’t offer any quick and easy explanations.  But the Psalm is an encouragement here…it doesn’t explain away suffering, but offers a hope that can sustain us in our present pain.

How do we hope in Christ no matter the circumstance?  How do we find solace in God’s plan when the current season is difficult and confusing?  Psalm 126 teaches that God has been faithful before, and no matter our current pain, He will be faithful again.  The psalm is hope, like God is saying, “Just stay with me and let Me carry you for a while when you hurt.”  We don’t always know WHY things happen in life, but we can know WHO will be with us when we hurt:  God.  Scripture doesn’t promise a pain-free life, but it does promise a Father who will always be near to us and that a future harvest of joy awaits.  The Psalm promises, “We shall come again with shouts of joy.”  The best example of this?  Randall’s story.  Check it out below…its worth 11 minutes of your time.

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Drop the Mask

In Bethany North,Jesus,Struggles with faith,The Church,The Journey on April 2, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

I had the chance to preach at Bethany North on Sunday about Psalm 32 and the power of vulnerability.  Click the link if you want a refresher on the Psalm a powerful word from David on the value of confessing our sin.  David said when he didn’t confess, his sin was literally eating at his bones and causing him to waste away.  But as he acknowledged his sin, and didn’t hide, and confessed his failures, he found forgiveness with God.  And this forgiveness lead to great joy.  Read it – it’s all there in the Psalm.

God’s desire is for us to be real and authentic, and not hide our pains and failures from one another and form him.  When Jesus when He was on earth, He was always empathetic to people who realized their failings and their humanity (woman at the well, thief on the cross, woman caught in adultery, etc).  Jesus had no patience for people who wore masks, especially those who wore religious masks hiding the real them behind the religious veneer of pretending everything was fine.

If you want to be known by God, you have to allow Him to see you as you really are.  You need to confess.  And if you want to be known by others- same rules apply.  You must be real and let others in.  Being a mask wearing culture, and a mask wearing church, isn’t getting us anywhere.

Brene Brown (in her Ted talk on vulnerability below) said that shame is the fear of disconnection and that the people who learn to be vulnerable and ask forgiveness become “wholehearted people” who have authentic relationships.  If we’re not careful, we become mask wearers to our friends, and our family, to our God, and eventually to ourselves.  And as a church, we must learn from the mistake we’ve made that allows this “mask wearing” for too long.  The danger is that if a church is made up of people who are always just “fine” and never vulnerable with one another (a.k.a. mask wearers), then when someone struggles or messes up or has a problem, they will never come back to church.  They can’t- because the church is full of people (so they think) that have no problems!  This is a real problem.

The hope as children of God and as God’s church is that we can move into God’s fullness when we aren’t enslaved by our past mistakes.  Our call is to be real, and be vulnerable, and drop the masks we wear the the world and wear to God, hiding ourself behind the facade.  God wants us to be real…so that he can renew and regenerate us through the fullness of His good news.  If you have time- watch this TED talk on vulnerability.

Powerful stuff.  Be real.  Be vulnerable.  The fruit of this labor is joy and a clean heart and lightened load.  It’s a joy I wish you all to share.  God uses humans not when they are perfect or sin free- but God uses humans when they have come clean and dropped the mask and they step fully into God’s big picture.

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Cisterns

In Keeping it Real,Spiritual Practices,Struggles with faith,The Journey,Uncategorized on March 3, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

cis·tern [sis-tern]  noun

1.a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid.

I was meeting with a friend in Portland a while back when he quoted Jeremiah on me.  Keep in mind, not many people are prone to quote Jeremiah.  But this man, my mentor and one of my best friends, has a way of challenging me to my core.  He said:

Jeremiah 2:13

13“My people have done two things wrong.
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of life-giving water.
They have also dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that can’t hold water.

In the context of the moment, he was addressing one of my other friends who has been having a hard time connecting with God lately.  My buddy, the one being quoted to, opened the conversation by saying that because of the challenges in his life lately, he was having a very hard time remembering that God loves him, and thus, a very hard time remembering that God is real and alive in the world.  That’s when my mentor dropped Jeremiah on him, challenging the situation of distance from God with the talk of cisterns.

I’ve reflected a lot over the last month on this notion of “cisterns”, things that collect water.  The prophet Jeremiah (above) looks at the situation in Israel when people were far from God and labels “two things wrong” whereas I normally just see one.  I look at my own life at times of distance and realize I have had moments where I abandon God, who the prophet calls “the fountain of life-giving water.”  I do this.  Many other people do this.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to abandon God.  I just stop hanging out with Him.  I stop searching for Him in the world.  And then like a relationship once the dating and romance has ended, all that is left is the formal ties of allegiance.  In our daily lives, we can abandon the fountain of real life and then wonder why our life feels devoid of God’s life-giving and life-altering power.  We feel as dry as an ancient riverbed and so we stop going to God, the fountain of this life-giving water.  Those things we seek define us and ultimately fill us.

The second part of Jeremiah’s lament here struck me as convicting.  The Lord says, “They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water.”  In a place like ancient Israel, without literal water you will literally die.  This isn’t just a metaphor.  And because of the arid climate, you either found a way to live near the source of water or you developed containers and reservoirs to contain water for the dryer days and weeks of your life.

Spiritually, how often do we do the same thing?  We go out to “build cisterns” to contain God in and do the good things of our Christian faith.  We get busy in church or in service or get busy trying to do good things for the Kingdom or get busy in a small group or just plain get busy in life.  All the while, if we’re not careful, we’re building cisterns that can’t hold water.  Because at the end of the day, it is the substance of our spiritual life that counts, and not the things we do for God.  What is our life actually “full of”?  What do we actually contain?  What are we spilling out in our actions and deeds?  If we don’t live near the source, our lives will become arid in no time at all.  But if we seek God and fill our life with a fullness of spirit of Jesus, I’m inclined to think it is Him that our lives will speak of.

Paul speaks in Corinthians about our life becoming so full of Christ that like an aroma, we will reek of God to the world around us.  Like the sweet perfume of a blooming jasmine or the robust and flavorful whiff of an Italian kitchen, our very lives will start to smell like Jesus when we drink of Him daily.  Paul writes, “In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent (or odorous) with life.”

What does your life smell like right now?  What is it full of?  I am challenged in this season to dwell on the power of Jesus to fill me up, so that I would be full of His spirit, and not rely on my own cisterns.  From my Lenten journal this week I have written it over and over, “Come and fill me up Lord.  Come and fill me up.”

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Hands on our life jacket

In God's great love,Struggles with faith,The Journey on December 29, 2011 by scottsund Tagged: , , , ,

It is so nice during the Christmas vacation to get some time with my kids.  Breaking out of the normal routine and having some days to spend together has been absolutely life giving.  During the few days off, we spent the night together as a family at Great Wolf Lodge as a Christmas present from my folks.  If you’ve not seen GWL from I-5, you’ve probably been driving with your eyes closed as you pass Centralia.  This place is huge, a 600 room water park-themed hotel built and designed for kids.

We journeyed down as a family with my parents and after checking in, were soon wet from the water slides.  The facility is massive, with water slides, a wave pool, and lots of kiddie pools for the youngest.  We played hard, we laughed hard, and we swam hard.  It was a great night together.

In the morning we had a few more hours in the water park before departing.  Baby Harper had headed back to the room for a nap with my mom so Heather took my daughter on one ride while my son told me he wanted to spend his last time in the park in the wave pool.  The only problem is that my son isn’t a very strong swimmer.  At age 5, he still feels much safer with a life jacket.

We headed for the deepest end of the wave pool just as the next set of waves was being cranked up.  At their peak, the waves get rolling 3 or 4 feet, which is a rush for a small kid in a pool who himself is only 45” tall.  He faced the waves going up and down and laughing like crazy.  And though he couldn’t tell, my hands never left his life jacket.  I let him use the full weight of his body to float, but my hands were positioned in such a way that should he need me, I was already holding him.

At the crescendo to the wave experience, as the pool around us was full of other swimmers and Kincaid was splashing up and down, he suddenly started to frantically swing his body around.  Wanting to not lose my position, I swung with him, floating behind him.  I was keeping him safe, but without meaning to, I was also keeping myself directly behind his line of sight as I stayed positioned behind his life vest as he swung in a full 360 degrees.  His movements became more panicked and his face started to melt into tears and I grabbed him and held him close.  “What is it?” I asked.

He said through the tears, “I was floating but I felt like I was lost.”

“But I was there the whole time, I was holding you the whole time.” I said.

“Yes but I couldn’t see you with my eyes,” he cried.  And instead of explaining myself, I simply held him close.  See, though he couldn’t see me, my hands were on his life jacket the whole time.  In fact, my hands never departed him.  I did this because I know my son, I know his strengths, and I know his weaknesses. And because of this, I know to keep my hands on him in a pool.  My hands hadn’t left his life jacket, but because of my steady hold, he couldn’t feel me anymore.

The bible tells us that this is our story.  The God who made us in His image, who loves us, and who has allowed us to know him, He has never departed us.  Throughout the Old Testament, Father God walked with His people, at times literally residing at the outside of their camp as they journeyed to the Promised Land.  And throughout centuries, the people continued to forget that God was right there.  And so God sent His Son Jesus Christ to come and dwell with His people.  To live with them and love them and show them God’s own heart.  And though some followed, many didn’t recognize God in Jesus Christ.  And yet, God never left us.  Even after Christ died, rose again and ascended to heaven, He told His followers He would leave the Holy Spirit to dwell within us as we await Christ’s second coming.  And now the Holy Spirit literally lives inside us as it says here.

As humans, we struggle with faith because we can’t see God with our own eyes.  And at times in our journey, it feels like God has left us.  But the God of the Christian faith promises us that He has never left us.  He will never forsake us.  Both the book of Hebrews and Deuteronomy explain this and I love the NASB translation of the Deut. Passage: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

The value of seeing things with our own eyes can’t be overstated.  We want proof.  We want to see things.  But sometimes we can’t and we need to trust that there are hands on our life jacket.  His hands.  As one year ends and the new year begins, refocus your life on this great truth.  God is with us.  Like hands on our life jacket, He has never departed us.  He keeps us safe.  He knows us, and longs to know us more.  He will not fail us or forsake us.  Dwell in that promise and live into that calling.  He holds us even now.