My latest sermon for First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Longview, Texas based on John 20:19-31.
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.
If you missed any of the other Facebook Live Bible Study click here.
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.
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.
After some technical difficulties I was able to have another session of Matthew Live. Catch up on previous videos by clicking here.
I was asked to contribute to a Lenten Devotional by Fig Tree Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). You can find all the devotions by clicking here.
Patience: Words are Important
Rev. Evan M. Dolive
Hotheads stir up conflict, but patient people calm down strife.
Proverbs 15:18 CEB
I can’t stand the cliché, “patience is a virtue.” It just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it is because there are times when I am not the most patient person in the world. I have been working on it, but there are sometimes when I fail miserably. I can be a loud mouth, a hot head and an overly opinionated person. On some levels I can’t help it or at least that’s what I tell myself; I find ways for the wrong doing to be someone else’s fault or I rationalize why whatever I said was in fact the truth and they needed to hear or that the hearer was just over reacting.
Words are important; the words we say and more importantly how we say them are of even more significance.
Patience is a skill that has to be crafted and often times re learned and that’s why its so hard. We actually have to work at it. Patience is not just something we remind ourselves to have when we on the verge of road rage but it is a key element in the Lenten journey.
In our society the concept of waiting or pausing or even inhaling is becoming a thing of the past. We want things and we want them fast. We want out internet to be blazing, we complain when it takes 10 seconds to download a song or a picture. Cell phone companies market their phones to show how a person can get things done faster or applications load faster than the competition.
Lent is not just a call to center our thoughts and minds on the life of Christ and the journey to the cross rather is one a deliberate patience. We want to get to the happy day of Easter but we don’t want to have to do the long way around to get there. There is something that we will miss if we do not take the time to journey with Christ in the Lenten season.
Take it from a fallible person who is continually working on patience, its not the easiest thing in the world, but I believe waiting for Easter will make that fateful day just that much more special.
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O God help me to be more patient in my daily life. Grant me the strength and wisdom to slow down and breathe you in. Calm my soul as I wait for your realm to come. In Christ’s holy name, Amen.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
Being an ordained minister (and a Christian for many years), I am acutely aware of the perceptions of Christians in society, media and entertainment. There is a wide range of interpretation when it comes to the those who follow the teachings of Christ. Too often Christians are heralded as Bible toting, literalist whose sole God driven and directed purpose is to point on the flaws, indecent acts, immoral conduct and heredities that are being propagated in the world around them. Christians are portrayed as “soldiers in God’s army” with the mission of conversion by telling others that they are not living correctly or by God’s standards. They come off as with a “holier than thou” complex because they have ridden themselves of such impure and un-God like things, thereby making them superior to those who have not heard the gospel message. Every time I see a movie or TV show with a character based on this stereotype I think “is this what people think of the church?” “is this what people think being a Christian is all about? No wonder the church is shrinking”. This isn’t the view of Christianity I proclaim.
To be honest, it makes me sad to think that this is the way that the Church and the followers of Christ are being perceived, thus it hurts all of us. I get mad to think that other voices that do not believe that brand of theology are not being heard, by anyone. Sure, it is easy to blame TV and movies, but it does not stop there. Whenever there is a moral or social dilemma, news organization and outlets seek out the “Christian opinion.” Everyone from Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham and Kirk Cameron, have taken to the airwaves to pronounce what the Christian response is for all of those who follow Christ. Often I disagree with them because they simply do not speak for me. Their answers filled with unnecessary political rhetoric and lack of empathy of the other is why, in my opinion, we see the basis for just crude and untrue caricatures of Christians.
Our society has become one of “lumping.” We have decided to find one imperfection or stance that we disagree with and thus discredit entire groups of people. We see this in churches where entire denominations or theologies are cast as “immoral” or “non-Christian.”
We don’t have to look too far outside the walls of the church to see this in action. News commentators contribute to this by categorizing entire groups of people as “liberal” or “conservative.” Social media is filled with generalizations of the “other” trying to discredit their thought pattern and belief system.
Sadly, in recent years this “lumping” has been applied to the religion of Islam. Followers of Islam from all walks of life in the United States have been subjected to misinformation passed along as truth. Because of this an entire religion is seen a harbor of evil and destruction based on the actions of a small number of people. Many Christians do not want to be lumped together with the hateful actions and speech of Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan, so why do we continue to propagate this false understanding of Islam?
The problem with “lumping” is that we only surround ourselves with people who think, look, act and believe that we do. There is no growth, no new learning rather there is an assurance that we are right and the “other” is wrong. Churches that practice this limited theological practice only reinforce what they already believe; any outside or differing perspective is seen as an attempt to thwart the plain teachings of the Bible or the minister.
The denomination I am apart of (the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)), we have on essential of faith: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. That’s it, no creeds, no book of rules to follow, no swearing your allegiance to anyone or anything. Just that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of the world; “Persons are free to follow their consciences guided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, study and prayer, and are expected to extend that freedom to others.” (taken from disciples.org).
Personally, it is a completely liberating and extremely powerful statement. Fellow Christians are able with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, their relationship with God and the church community, to read and understand the teachings of Christ and God found throughout the Bible.
If you believe that Creation happened in six, twenty-four hour days that fine, but if you don’t that is fine too. If you believe that Bible predicts the end of the world in 2017, that’s fine, but if you don’t that is fine too. Just as long we are to speak with one another about our faith in a way that is constructive not destructive. We learn and grow about God throughout our lives; we need others perspectives to help us see a fuller and complete picture of who God, what God is doing and what we are called to do in the world around us. We don’t have agree on every theological construct, rather we need a unity in Christ.
The point in the end is not who is right or who is wrong, rather its more about how are we living faithfully with each other and with Jesus the Christ; nothing more, nothing less.
Maybe if all the followers of Christ modeled this type of behavior, the opinion of Christians and Christianity will begin to change in the media and in the world.