Sermon: The Giving Christ

My latest sermon for First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Longview, Texas based on John 20:19-31.


The Struggle of Faith (LNJ)

My latest for the Longview News-Journal

As humanity looks back on its storied history there are eras that are marked with great advancement in philosophy science, art and theology. There was the Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment to name a few. All of these have offered humanity a new perspective on how to view the world and further contemplate our role in it. Today, historians and scholars are still trying to name this period of time we find ourselves currently in. I believe “post-Enlightenment” is a good summarization of where we stand. On one hand, it is a wonderful thing. The revelations of the Enlightenment have brought about some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last 200 years. Much of what modern science is built upon was first studied and analyzed during this time. On the other hand, it has made us quite skeptical to many things. We look for facts and evidence before we further believe in the claims being presented.

In 2017, we find ourselves in a world where humanity has access to more information than any other time in history. If we have questions we simply perform a search on the internet and 9 times out of 10 we will find the answer. It is a wonderful tool that we have at our disposal. Couple it with the ever-advancing changes in computer and mobile technology human can now search for answers that plague our minds anywhere and at any time. This constant information access has made our quest for facts and the truth more desirable.

There is one thing I believe that even in a post Enlightenment age still is a difficult burden for many people: faith in God.

Faith is a challenging thing to wrap our minds around. It forces us to believe in things that not seen or measurable. We can analysis and scrutinize the stories of the Bible for their plausibility or historicity and will often come up short. For many this is not acceptable. Why believe in a God or in Jesus if I do not for certain know that it is the truth? This is not a new phenomenon but I believe that it is becoming more and more difficult for people to find and keep their faith. No amount of searching on Google will ever “prove” the existence of God or Jesus the Christ.

James Fowler was a theologian who studied faith across the life cycle. He believed that there was different stages of faith that a person went through during their life. The biggest and most foundational stage is what he called “synthetic conventional.” Most people enter this stage around 13 and during this time a person is trying to synthesize (or understand) what the world (of the church) as told them is normal or conventional. If you have ever worked with or taught middle school aged students this where the wheels begin to turn and the questions of faith start to bubble up to the surface. (My favorite is “If Adam and Eve were the only people on Earth then where did Cain’s wife come from?)

During this time people begin to question their most basic held beliefs. Questions of faith and its practical application in the world become important growing tools in a person’s life. Churches and ministers should not dismiss questions of faith. Questions are profoundly important in exercising one’s own interpretive lens through which they see the world and God. This means that as a faith community the Church is going to need to be honest and open about matter of faith. Telling someone who has questions regarding their faith to just “have faith and believe” only discourages them more. I’m not saying that the Church or ministers or lay leaders will have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Rather I believe that questions are about learning, sharing, growing and journeying together. Just because I have a Master’s degree in Divinity does not mean that I understand fully the complex world of theology nor does it mean that I cannot learn from my parishioners about matters of life and faith. We are all on this journey together; recognizing that we all have questions, we all struggle and that deep-down faith can be difficult and trying at times means that we all find something that brings us back each week.

It is hard for some to find faith in God in a world of hate, greed and malice. It is hard for some to find faith in a world that is not that “very good” place described in Genesis 1. It is hard for people to find faith when someone dies unexpectedly, receives a poor diagnosis or faces an uncertain future. These are difficult situations not just for people struggling to understand God better but also for Christians as well. It is wrong to suggest that questioning God or even one’s circumstances is “wrong” or “blasphemous.” The Bible is filled with prayers and stories of people questioning God, God’s motives and actions (or lack thereof). The Psalms for example give voice to almost every human emotion. We need to share our frustration and share in our common struggle as humans. I believe that if God give us an emotion then God can handle that emotion. Our questions speak to the deep seeded desire of our soul to fully understand our place in this world. Saint Augustine of Hippo summed this up well when he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Faith does not come with easy answers but it does give our lives meaning. Finding a place where questions are welcomed and even encouraged, where cheap clichés are thrown out the window is the best for a person looking for faith or struggling with faith is what is most important.

Matthew Live Session 8

If you missed any of the other Facebook Live Bible Study click here.

In Case You Missed Easter Worship…


Lenten Devotional: Faithfulness: Alive and Strong

Faithfulness: Alive and Strong
Rev Evan Dolive

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. Hebrews 11:1 CEB

Faith is a tenet of Christianity that can take on many different forms. If you were raised in the church or even if you became a follower of Christ later in life, the notion of your faith or having faith was more than likely a topic of conversation. In a world filled with facts, figures and needing proof before we believe a YouTube video has the notion of faith been lost?
This notion of faith is showed when Christ teaches the disciples that faith of a child is needed to enter the realm of God. This one simple teaching of Christ has turned into just taking things at face value but by subscribing to this mentality I believe we are selling ourselves short.
Children’s faiths are alive and strong, and the church needs to recognize this instead of repeating corny “children’s sermons” that are usually well intentioned but often developmentally inappropriate. The church’s story is being heard and lived out in front of our eyes through the hands and feet of some of the smallest members of the church. Why are we amazed that more children are asking to give money or toys to others instead of receiving for themselves? This is something that should be an extension of our own faith; sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to reorient our thinking about what truly matters.
We don’t give children enough credit. They are infinitely smarter than we think. Children figure out things that most adults have trouble comprehending. I truly believe that my daughter came out of the womb knowing how to operate an iPad. She gets that finger swiping and she can navigate the world of apps and photos with more precision and understanding that people 20 times her age.
Having faith like a child does not mean that we take everything at face value, but it does mean that we have the ‘go-get-em’ attitude. Children’s faiths are constantly being shaped and formed by the people around them and by the answers they get to important questions. If we cannot articulate our faith in a way that a child can understand, then we have a failure in communication.
I want to have a child’s faith; I want the stories of the Bible to be more than just words on a page or the same old story. I want to be emboldened in my faith to step out and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around me. And if I can do that, I know that I will have a partner in ministry with me. This Lent let us hold to our faith and examine it; may this time of contemplate and prayer allow us to experience God anew as well as deepen and strengthen our faith in God and Christ.

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Help me O God to have faith like a child, innocent and wondering. May your spirit dwell within me in Lenten Season. Through Christ I pray, Amen.

You and I Aren’t So Different (For LNJ)

It’s a common question.  It’s is a question that comes up in the most general and basic of conversations.  You could be at a party, meeting someone for the first or in the chair getting your haircut.  The question arises: “What do you do for a living?”  For most people when they answer question the response is one that is met with probing or clarifying questions, not when I answer.

You see when I tell people what I do it strikes fear in their heart, I tell them: “I am a minister.”  All at once a wave comes over their face as if they are shocked that a minister would come out from behind the pulpit and Bible commentaries to venture out into the world of sinners and commoners.  Eye contact lessens as if people don’t want me to peer into their soul and see them for who they truly are.

Generally, there are three basic responses that I receive. The first I call “the confession.”  People will begin to tell me about how long it has been since they have been in church.  They usually like to comfort me by saying “but I still believe in God.” They tell me about how busy they have become or they just moved.

The second type of reaction I call “the comparison.” When this takes place, people immediately begin to tell me about their religious preferences and experiences.  If the person I am speaking to had not interjected what I call “God talk” yet, they promptly add it to the conversation.  They will tell me about their minister’s sermons from the previous Sunday to prove to me that they were listening and that his/her teaching was effective.  Someone actually turned on the Bible on CD while I was receiving a haircut.

The final type of reaction I call “the confrontation.” When this happens people usually try to “shock” me with their theological beliefs or lack thereof. In general, they are not looking for a fight rather they are informing me that they do not believe in the same way they think I do. Most are surprised when I tell them that I agree with their interpretation or that faith is difficult and struggle is normal. One person asked me “so you’re not mad that I don’t go to church?” It broke my heart that she thought that my reaction would be anything other than loving, open, warm and kind.

Ministers preach and talk at length about grace and forgiveness but I have heard too many heartbreaking stories about where good faithful Christians did not live up that mark.

Once a woman told me about her lack luster church attendance.  She had stopped going to church because the worship service she was attending was not connecting with her on a deep, spiritual level.  If she had just told me that part of the story I would have been fine and we might have continued our conversation about her religious experiences or maybe abandoned that track and began a completely new conversation.  Rather she began her conversation by informing me “I really don’t go to church that much, I mean I am not a devil worshiper or anything like that but I just don’t care for the service at my church right now.”   Since when did not going to church for Christians become devil worshipping in a minister’s mind? Is that the dichotomy that exist– Worship God or you are a devil worshiper?  Is this the perception that people have of ministers?   Do people really think that I am a perfect, pious, self-righteous, judgmental person who goes from place to place condemning people for their lack of faith and church attendance?

Sadly, that is an accurate description of about one percent of the ministerial population, but not me.

Ministers are human beings; we are people just like you.  We go to the store, we shop online, and we try to make ends meet month to month.  Ministers have taken on as their call or duty to ensure that the message of Jesus Christ is promoted and propagated in the world.  Yes, many ministers are educated in theology, divinity and pastoral care, but knowledge of the Bible and having good skills in the pulpit does not make one perfect.  Yes, ministers are seen as the spiritual leaders of their congregations but to place the label of perfection places a great weight on minister’s shoulders.

Ministers don’t walk around singing “The Old Rugged Cross” and quoting scripture, rather ministers have to find a way to get the kids to softball practice, homework completed, dinner on the table and make that two-hour evangelism committee meeting on top of writing a sermon, making visits and the seemingly endless needs of a congregation and ministry.

Am I perfect? No, far from it and I don’t claim to be.

I listen to music other than gospel or “contemporary Christian”

I make mistakes just like everyone else.

I sometimes don’t pray as often as I should.

Does this make me a less effective minister?  I don’t think so, but it does make me human.  Christ came to the Earth to restore people to wholeness and mend people in their brokenness.  Nowhere in the Bibles does Christ command his followers to be perfect, rather he understands that humans are flawed individuals seeking completeness.

So the next time you see a minister tell him/her that you hope they are well and not too stressed, especially during the holy times (Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter).  Don’t treat them any differently than you would treat anyone else.  So as you can see, you and I aren’t that different after all.