Thursday, July 31, 2008


This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at the First Baptist Church, Longview. The only place I would have rather been was in Latvia, where the pastor was, which is why I was filling in for him.

During the sermon, I mentioned the story about my dad being laid off some 36 years ago. He was a petroleum engineer. The oil business was way down. Dad had been with the company for some 20 years but one barrel of oil just wasn’t adding enough to the bottom line. Computers were also quickly replacing the work men once did from pickups. Some 1500 people, including my dad, got their pink slips. In our case, it was just two months before I headed off to college.

What happens in families is one thing. How parents interpret those events for their children is everything more. From the minute I first saw my dad after he got home with the bad news, the interpretation began. He was sitting in his favorite bedroom chair, changing socks, calmly telling me about the day he’d had.

He’d been laid off and, oddly, was not only relieved but even grateful. For years, he’d felt stuck in a corporate dead end. He wanted more for his life and his family, mainly the dignity of opportunity that corporate ladders with only so many rungs don’t afford. He’d prayed for relief, that God would open a door. Suddenly, according to my dad, God opened the door. It just wasn’t the one he expected, the trap door underneath his career. He was interpreting to me what had happened to him as nothing less than an answer to prayer. Now, he would be forced to look for the dignity of new opportunity, something he confessed he would have never done as long as he was satisfied to take home a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks, the one thing the corporation did offer. Until the layoff, that is.

Until he died, my dad said that losing his job was the best thing that ever happened to him. He spent the rest of his career doing what he loved most, working as an independent contractor in petroleum engineering.

Well meaning friends encouraged me not to leave my last job until I had something else nailed down. I wanted to honor their advice. But, I kept wondering what opportunities for dignity might be passing me by just while I stayed in a place where there was a somewhat guaranteed paycheck. Is it better to worry about money while it’s coming in or worry about it when it’s not? What’s the difference? Prostitution comes in many forms, not all of which are sexual.

I couldn’t get my dad’s testimony out of my mind. I kept hearing him say, “The best thing that ever happened to me . . ..” One day, I awoke with a “hold my beer and watch this” attitude and took the leap of faith into the unknown.

Last Sunday, an engineer came up to me after the service and asked about what my dad did with the rest of life. He feels stuck, after 30 years, on a corporate ladder with few opportunities. He wants his life and his training to count for more. It felt really good to tell him my dad’s story, the story that has now become my own.

I took the leap myself back in April. I’m still not sure, for a fact, how we’re going to make it. But, make it we will. I’m absolutely trusting God. I’m convinced that the day will come when I’ll say to my sons, “The best thing that ever happened to me was when . . ..” They already know the rest of the story. They’re just waiting to see how I’ll interpret it for them. Maybe someday it will be their story, too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Going Back In

Some thirty years ago, my very first pastorate was in a community so tiny that part of its name included the word, “burg.” Forestburg had two stop signs that slowed anyone down going through. A post office, one school for grades 1-12, a grocery store where the clerks would pick out your groceries for you and three churches rounded out the cultural structure that some 300 families called home.

My parsonage was a single-wide trailer that was dated beyond repair even then. It kept the rain off but not the rats out. What I caught with cheese under the kitchen sink could be classified as big game. In the summer, it was a thermal conductor sucking in hot air like a starving furnace. It the winter, you could have hung beef, literally. But, it was almost like a camping adventure and it was my home for two years.

Sometimes, I got so bored that I’d actually go visiting total strangers in the community. I mean, visiting anyone whose porch light was still on after dark. This one young couple lived at the edge of town in another single wide. One cold winter night I pulled my 1974 Caprice onto their graveled drive. The young man was sitting outside smoking cigarettes non-stop in the cold early winter chill. Something was obviously wrong.

I’d no sooner told him who I was than he began making his confession. He and his wife, who was still inside and whom I never met, had just had a horrible fight. He wouldn’t tell me what about and I didn’t ask. I’d never been married and had the good sense not to presume to give him marriage advice. Even then, I seemed to have a sixth sense that anger that deep represented an even deeper pain (a lesson too many never learn about why people they love are so angry). Whatever they’d fought about had stripped him of his masculinity and dignity for the night. All I knew was that the frost-bitten air didn’t hurt as much as what he feared back inside the house. (Remember, I never heard her side of the story).

I just listened as the night air grew frostier by the minute and our breath blew whiter into the dim yellowish light that came through the kitchen window giving us a flashlight view of reality. I must have stayed the better part of an hour. For whatever reason, I never knew the outcome of that fight. At some point, even if for no other reason than to collect his things and leave, that guy must have gone back in and faced reality. Maybe they made up and found a way of making marriage meaningful for the last three decades.

The church and I had this pretty serious spat over the past year. Not all of the church, mind you (you’ll have to ask her about her side of the story). But, enough spatting went on to make sitting out in the cold for a few months seem more attractive than being inside. So, I’ve sat outside for a while. It looks like someone is about to invite me back in. There is someone inside that Nancy and I love very much. I’ve pondered my options. I think I’m about to go back in.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Hope is knowing that our lives count for more than our mistakes. That we’ve accumulated more substance than fluff. That the balance of our lives is weighed more toward the good than the bad, the things that are eternally good more than our mistakes. Though I’ve learned all of this in more significant ways, I made a simple mistake once that has become a parable of eternal hope.

Some years ago, I decided to bless my family by baking a cheesecake. I had yet to learn the simple truth that, when it comes to cheesecake, in cost, time and effort, it’s pretty hard to beat store-bought.

The recipe I was using called for a number of rather expensive items and a time-consuming process that all ended up in an electric mixing bowl. Before long, a beautiful mix of cream cheese, eggs, flower and other ingredients bearing mega-fat was swirling around just inches below my knuckles. The next step called for fresh lemon zest. I’d never zested a lemon or anything else for that matter. Not knowing any better, I went to work running the lemon over the grater just inches above the yellowish whirlpool, carefully slicing the tiny slivers of lemon rind into the mix. Not carefully enough, though. In a split second of inattention, the lemon slipped and my knuckle ran with the lemon over the grate. Before I could say “cheesecake,” I had added one more ingredient not called for in the recipe, a huge drop of my own blood.

There was no stopping it. That one drop of blood swirled into the mix and created something like a strawberry swirl. By the time I reached the power button the damage was done. There was blood in my cheesecake and there was no way to get it out. Even if I had wanted to, there was no time and not enough ingredients to start over. I pondered my options. I could throw it all away and make an excuse over dinner. Or, I could get creative. I looked around. No one was watching. I looked into the mixer and realized that there was more cake than blood. So, I turned the mixer back on, blended the blood in until it disappeared, slammed that puppy in the oven, baked it up and served it to my family later, none of them the wiser.

That’s the way life seems to work. Despite our best intentions and efforts, up to and including the passion to give our best to those we love, our humanity keeps getting in the way. Drops of our own blood get spilled into our parenting, our marriages, our finances and so on, places that we prefer remain pure. Everywhere we look, there’s blood in our cheesecake.

Hope comes from knowing that what God is up to in our lives is of greater substance, means more, than the sum total of all our mistakes. “This . . . is how we . . . set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20).

Hope is knowing that, even when we disappoint those we love the most or make the most humiliating mistakes, our humiliation and our humanity both get blended into the greater purpose of God for our lives. That’s why we call it hope.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Morning Light

At first we were kind of sad. During the night, a storm blew with a wicked wind and a tree across the alley gave way. We awakened to find it lying lifeless across our fence over into our backyard. It was just one of those alley fence trees, whatever kind that is. But, when you grow up in West Texas, every tree is a sacred thing.

Besides, for seven years we’d watched it change colors in the fall and blossom again in the spring. We’d grown sort of attached to it watching us grow, too. We were sad when the wind blew it down. Until the morning came.

As I sat down to write, staring out the north window to where the tree had been, I was able to see farther than ever before. And, oh, what a sight! The rising sun’s rays cut horizontal shafts of light through the morning’s haze, splashing the open meadow with pallets of gold and yellow all mixed with shadows cast by the morning light pushing its way through the tall prairie grass. As far as the eye could see, the view was simply spectacular. Now that the tree was gone.

We never realized how the tree had blocked our view. Until the morning came. It was only then that we realized how the storm had actually cleared the way for us to see farther than ever, especially to see the good gift of nature’s Master painter, just beyond the fence of our imaginations.

Storms can be like that. Wicked though they may be, they often clear the way for us to see what we’d never seen before. When the wicked wind blows, it seems like nothing good could ever happen again.

Until the morning comes.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tooth Fairy

Last year, right before the children were to go on stage to perform their spring musical, another little boy inadvertently elbowed nine-year-old Ben in the mouth. Besides being painful, Ben was so very disappointed that the elbow also knocked one of his teeth loose. Ben screwed up his courage and sang the entire musical anyway.

When he got home, Ben stood over the bathroom sink to finish the work the elbow had only begun. As bad as it had been, it did open the possibility of leaving something for the tooth fairy. Then, just as he worked the tooth loose it fell into the sink and down the drain. Ben was horrified! His dad, Scott, who is not a Master plumber but who is a master father, decided to see if he could rescue the tooth by removing the drain trap under the sink. In the process, he got the trap loose but not without breaking another pipe that would require calling a real and very expensive plumber. Now, both father and son were so very disappointed.

The plumber came and, while fixing the broken pipe, discovered something else askew in the plumbing that required climbing under the house to repair. While there, he discovered something more ominous. It was a water leak that had been dripping for some time onto a gas line that runs beneath the house. The leak was just about to corrode a hole in the pipe that would have soon started causing a very dangerous gas leak.

The rest of the story involves older sister Corrie coming to Ben’s rescue. The missing tooth was never found. So, Corrie offered Ben a souvenir. It was a fossilized shark’s tooth she’d had for some time, a prized possession. She gave it to Ben telling him that he could put that under his pillow for the tooth fairy. Ben was aghast. “I can’t put that shark’s tooth under my pillow. The tooth fairy will think I’m a vampire!” Good intentions persisted and Ben decided to use the shark’s tooth anyway. Just to be sure, he wrote a personal letter to the tooth fairy explaining all that had happened and, what started out as one disappointment after another turned into something very wonderful.

Which is meaning of the tooth parable. Had Ben not been elbowed in the mouth and lost his tooth in the sink causing the plumber to climb under the house, well, none of us would like to think about what could have been had the gas leak not been discovered. The icing on the disappointment turned hope cake was that all of this created an opportunity for big sister to prove her compassion.

That is all the scripture is encouraging us to see. That what can at first cause us to be so very disappointed can, if we will let the grace of God have its way, come to be seen as nothing more than a painful way hope finds its way into our lives. Sometimes life can be so very disappointing. But, we also have this eternal promise from God’s word. “We . . . boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us . . ..”

Since I first wrote that story something else has occurred to me. It’s the singing we do anyway, even after someone has kicked in our teeth, that is the sweetest melody.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bag Lady

A dear friend is working hard to start a new church in a fast-growing suburban community. It’s a progressive Baptist church in an extremely conservative culture. No question his voice and that church are needed. It’s just a lot of hard, gut-wrenching work. It’s often a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kind of life. As it turns out, in what is otherwise a very wealthy community, a bag lady is one of the founding members of his church

Starting a new church these days means that you will more often than not find yourself swimming upstream against the cultural tide of high demand for simple answers to complex questions and good feelings confused as worship. You find yourself trying to make it work in a world where even the most committed followers of Jesus are having a hard time figuring out how to “do church.” You have to watch carefully for those who will guilt you into selling your soul (and family) to the church.

Not in spite of, but, because of all of that, my friend is trying to start a new church. Now, a new baby is on the way. The cost of failure just went up substantially. No one would ever blame him for working hard, real hard. The need to provide for one’s family and not fail God mixed together at the same time, working for a living where you also try to worship, can be a spiritual toxin.

By his own admission, he found himself not able to shut off his mind even when we was at home. Which means, his wife felt a little neglected. She knew he was worried. She wanted to support him. She also wanted him. One day, she found a way of both blessing him and getting his attention at the same time. “If you ever decide you have to leave town,” she told him, “I’m the only person in the world who will pack her bag to go with you.” The bag lady is his wife.

After he told me that story I tried counting how many people would pack their bag to follow me if I ever left town. It didn’t take long. On the other hand, if you have only one bag lady, or bag man, in your life, you are a very wealthy person.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


There is nothing more powerful than a story. If I’ve learned anything from the Bible, it is not only that God is up to something redemptive in creation and recreation, it is also that each of us are a part of that bigger story. The best preaching I hear is preaching that helps me see how my story is a part of God’s story. The best reading is the reading of stories that connect my story to God’s story. The same can be said of music, art and so on.

Not everything worth reading and not all music, etc., is overtly Christian. Yet, all truth is God’s truth. Every discovery of truth is a discovery of the greater Truth. I’ve never seen a conflict between faith and science; they are just two parallel roads leading to the same destination.

Nature, God’s physical creation, helps us see ourselves as part of the grander scheme of God’s story. I’ll never forget the first time I stood on the open midnight prairie of northern New Mexico and found myself awestruck by the stars where no artificial light interfered. I was all alone and no one was singing or preaching or teaching a Bible study but it was, indeed, one of the most spiritual moments I’ve ever had.

In every human story, if we will listen, we can hear something of the voice of God. Even in the greatest of all tragedies, God’s voice is never completely silenced. Indeed, there is solid evidence that suffering helps quell the artificial light of temporary sensory experience so that the stars of God’s eternity are able to shine through all the more, thereby giving us hope beyond the moment in which we are living.

For the next while in my blog, I want to just tell stories. In particular, I’m going to repeat stories that have been encouraging to me over the years, helping me find God and stay meaningfully connected to God’s purpose. If you’ve ever read my preaching, you may notice some of these stories as reruns. That’s because these are the stories that I find myself repeating over and over again in conversation.

That’s one of the main ways we came to have our Bible. People kept telling the old, old story until someone decided it might be a good idea to write it all down. It was such a big story it took centuries to get it done. I’m convinced that God is still revealing and is still writing the story. Maybe in ways we can’t imagine, God is letting us be one of the authors of one or two lines of the story that someone will read generations from now.

I hope you enjoy these stories, and find encouragement and hope in them as well.

Monday, July 14, 2008


The new kid on the block shamed me, totally humiliated me. It was bad enough that the rest of us had lived and played there for years before this newcomer showed up. He was very athletic and good-looking and all the girls let him join the street gang free of the normal cost of at least one year in school together. None of the boys had the nerve to challenge his instant status. But, I did find some way of irritating him. His response was to call me down in front of all the people I’d known since second grade. I wouldn’t fight a kid I knew I couldn’t whip. I turned away from the laughing crowd and rode my bike home, totally shamed.

Shame is the robbing of someone’s dignity. That distinguishes it from discipline, an effort to instruct another person, or punishment, which is discipline to the extreme involving the withdrawal of some privilege or even the infliction of some form of pain. Shame involves the sheer stripping down of someone’s being for reasons that having nothing to do with hope. Parents who have had no good example in their own lives often result to shaming their children by thinking, falsely, that they are disciplining them. Shame is emotional torture to anyone on the receiving end.

Years ago, I observed a sad example of shame as discipline gone awry in another family. While playing with my sons on a local playground, another child was playing on a swing set nearby. The child did something that angered his mother. The mother shouted at the child, “Stupid!” As I watched, the boy changed his behavior for the moment. My heart broke for him, and for his mother. If that was or continued to be the standard way that mom chose to discipline her child, almost certainly, he grew up bearing a deep sense of emotional shame. The most important person in his world had stripped him of the simple dignity of being a person of inestimable wealth in her eyes. The sun in his spiritual universe had announced to him that he was out of orbit with the gravitational center of all that mattered. He was a shameful presence instead.

That may sound like an overreaction. But, in my experience, nearly every form of adult misbehavior is rooted in some form of unanswered shame from the past. Sin begets sin, shame begets shame. In its rawest, most unadulterated form, the gospel of Jesus is the only answer to shame. Sin may cause eternal death. Before eternal death, shame causes soul-mauling, heart-breaking, mind-numbing torture.

Feeling tortured, but keeping it to myself, I rode my bike back home. It was a summer day. Everyone sat outside back when there were only three black and white TV programs to watch inside. I pulled my knees up under my chin as a I parked myself on the front left fender of dad’s 1957 Ford two-door Fairlane. Dad knew something was wrong. He pulled himself up on the fender with me. No words were exchanged. In a moment, he slipped his arm around my shoulders and I began to cry. He never asked me what happened. He just wanted me to know that, in his eyes, I was of inestimable worth and no one, not even the block bully could change that. Through his beefy hands connected to my right shoulder, physical, emotional and spiritual refueled the empty tanks in my heart and soul with dignity and hope. My father was my friend; I knew I was loved. What else mattered.

The only remedy for shame is the presence in our lives of at least one other person who becomes the presence of Christ, the one who bore our shame on the cross, for us in moments of shame. The first person who ever did that for me was my dad. How about you?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Do you remember what it was like to come home from school when you’d just been beaten up on the playground? Or, maybe, when you got a little older, the first girl you had a crush on broke up with you and made fun of you to her friends in order to make it stick? Do you remember when they were picking teams and you were the one no one wanted on theirs? You may not remember the names of the people who shamed you but you never forget the feeling. (Anyone who can’t answer “yes” to at least one of these questions need not read further).

Do you remember what your parents said to comfort you? Things like, “Just because people say or do mean things to you doesn’t mean you deserve it.” Or, “When people treat you badly it says more about them than it does about you.” Or, and here’s the best one, “Jesus taught us to forgive those who hurt us.” Maybe so, but that was little comfort when I was still licking my wounds. I never could seem to find Jesus on the playground. My inability to immediately do what Jesus would do only added to my sense of shame. There is no deeper wound than the one shame inflicts. I’ve found that hasn’t changed with age.

It still hurts to lose. The playground has changed and the game counts for more but it still hurts to lose, to be rejected or to have someone say untrue things about you to others. Never more so than at church. Especially at church. The one place where everyone is supposed to play by the Jesus rules. Whatever nerve endings convey that kind of pain to our brains doesn’t dull like the nerves in other parts of our body just because we grow older. Shame, like most pain, is an equal opportunity provider of misery. Shame hurts spiritually, emotionally and even physically. I was still very young when I first felt the ends of my fingers aching like they were frostbitten, shooting electric bolts up my arms to the shame center of my brain anytime “I got my feelings hurt.”

There are remedies for shame, one in particular. I’ll get to that tomorrow. Today, I just wanted to ask if you remembered.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Dad used to edit his 8 mm home movies with a desktop reel to reel splicer. He’d view the developed reel a frame at a time, snip out the scenes he didn’t want to keep and then splice the two cut ends together. By the time he finished, we had another volume of family history, the editor’s cut.

That’s how I remember last summer. That’s because one year ago this very day I was dying. I didn’t know that because I was semi-comatose with tubes and hoses running out of every orifice. I don’t even remember getting hooked up. Nancy holds my memory of those days for me. The toxins from a dying liver and all the meds fried whatever part of my brain takes pictures, like a splicer on steroids.

The last day I recall with clarity was June 30, when we visited Gettysburg. On the reel of my memory, the next thirty days are pretty badly spliced up. Every now and then, I’ll ask Nancy to fill in some of the blanks my brain threw away. I’ve wondered if this is how Alzheimer’s victims must feel about their whole life.

One thing I do remember was coming face to face with my own mortality. I have snapshot memories of doctors and nurses working over me, talking about how sick I was, people praying. All the time, I could only look up at them from the bed, helpless to even participate in the conversation.

I’m still amazed at how quickly I got so sick, like as unto death. One day walking free, the next tethered to a bed. Thinking back on that week reminds me of the one thing I do remember learning for sure, a memory that stayed. However short or long our lives may be, they can end faster than an editor can snip a reel of film.

Whatever we intend to do, dream of doing, hope to do, we’d better get after it now. The worst thing we can ever do is allow ourselves to believe we’ve got tomorrow to get it done. This is the day the Lord has made for us to live the life he’s given us. We’re all dying. We just don’t know when the reel will come to an end.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Back in its TV days, I don’t recall watching one full episode of the nighttime soap, Dallas. The only soap that interested me was located just to the right of the faucet. Somewhere along the way, I did pick up one of J.R. Ewing’s more memorable sociopathic lines, “Once you give up integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.” That must depend on what you define as “the rest.”

A while back, someone asked me how my ministry was going. Almost without thinking, my knee-jerk answer was, “Once I give up my ego, the rest is a piece of cake.” My inquirer smiled knowingly then asked, “Isn’t that the way it is with all ‘the rest,’ too?”

She was right. Ministry, marriage, work, friendship, golf, you name it and all the rest, it all comes easier, once you get your ego out of the way. The only thing I ever tend to stumble over on the way to nearly anything meaningful or joyful is my own need to be in control, or to win, or to just be right all of the time. Once I give that up, the rest, the easier breathing, the deeper sleep, the more peaceful life, is a piece of cake.

Just before he lost his head over losing his heart to the Messiah’s call, John the Baptist spoke of a joy that comes only as a gift from heaven, once we give up our ego. “He must increase, I must decrease,” the martyr said.

He was right, the peace that so eludes us this side of heaven, the rest, the deep-breathing, soul soothing, heart-stilling, peace of God, is just the other side of letting go of the big ego. Once you give that up, the rest, the real rest, is a piece of cake, and it even tastes better at that.

Monday, July 7, 2008


A very wise man once said that a false god was anyone or anything other than God to whom we assigned the power to declare our worth to us. He was telling me this while I was going through a divorce a decade and a half ago. I was feeling so worthless because one person in this world decided that I wasn’t who she wanted to be married to anymore. Without knowing it, I had assigned that one person the power to declare my worth to me by whether or not she loved me, liked me, wanted to be with me, etc. It wasn’t her fault. She hadn’t applied for the job. Nonetheless, she had become, for me, a false god. That’s god with a little “g.”

God, capital “G,” is God by virtue of his Godness. God was from the beginning and will be after the end ends. No one appointed God to be God because there was no one there to appoint God. God, for mysterious reasons that outstrip our human capacities to rationalize, always has been.

God then, for mysterious reasons beyond our human capacity to rationalize, created us to experience his Godness, even share in it (made us in his image). We even get to look at all God has created and stand in awe of God (worship) and even use it to make a living and help others (stewardship). God’s very first warning to us was that we should exercise holy caution about letting anyone take God’s place in our lives. God told us of the dire consequences of worshipping at the feet of false gods because of their consistent tendency to destroy us instead of enliven us.

The rest is redemption history. Because we thought we knew better (pride), we did what God warned us not to do and God’s been trying to clean up the mess ever since. Adam and Eve took the first bite and we’ve been shopping at the same road side fruit stand ever since.

As false gods go, I’ve never had trouble with apples. Chicken fried steak and gravy, maybe, but not asparagus or broccoli. My biggest problem, though, has been with the church. Since before I can remember, that’s where I went to feel good, to feel worthy, to feel like I mattered (all exclusive rights of God, not god). When the church is your false god, getting rejected by a church (not the Church) feels like, well, being sentenced to hell. The most dangerous thing in any church is a pastor whose false god is the church.

Maybe this last year has been worth more than I realized. It’s made me realize I had a false god in my life that needs to be dethroned. The church is not God. It can be our false god, but only if we assign it that power. The church is not Jesus. The church, when it’s at its best, is nothing more than a group of people who are tired of shopping at roadside stands for what God alone can give (never sell) and who have gathered to stand in awe of God, therein discovering their reason for being and living out of that accordingly.

If all of this has been worth that one discovery, then all these years haven’t been wasted after all. Maybe I’m just now getting ready to truly worship and serve (and even laugh again).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Buffet Believers

Not long before his tragic death, an interviewer asked John Kennedy, Jr. about his memories of his father. Kennedy told him that he wasn’t sure which memories were his and which ones had been given to him by others. Reporters loved taking pictures of what appeared to be the idyllic and beautiful Kennedy family. Since he was only four when his father was assassinated, John, Jr. had to put together a picture memory book in his mind made up mostly of pictures others had taken of his family. Kennedy said that he had only one memory of his father that he knew for sure was his own. The rest of his memory was borrowed from the pictures others took.

It has always concerned me, as a pastor, as a father and a friend, that the faith of so many people is not really their own. It’s a borrowed faith, cobbled together with the bits and pieces of the faith of others. Like they had walked through a spiritual all-you-can-eat buffet, loading their plates full with the bits and pieces of the faith of others that seemed palatable to them.

If you ask them what they believe about God, it’s hard for them to speak with clarity. They believe what they believe because their parents or grandparents or older siblings believed it. They didn’t believe what they did because they thought critically, but because they were willing to let others do their believing for them, as though that is possible.

I often chaffed under the ministerial collar others attempted to put on me by trying to live their faith vicariously through me, the hired hand. They enjoyed a glass of wine or a margarita, but, from the pulpit, they wanted their pastor to rail against the evils of drinking. They never shared their faith with others but expected the pastor to preach about the importance of being evangelistic. They expect their pastor to preach about forgiveness but rather enjoyed keeping score, sometimes for years, on those who had offended them. If the pastor said it, they considered it said by themselves, since they paid for the sermon. There is nothing more dangerous or fragile than a faith borrowed from someone else but never made your own. Living on borrowed faith is like expecting to lose weight because you watch your neighbor jog by every morning.

The Apostle Paul talked of the time he stopped thinking and speaking like a child and chose to become an adult. Becoming an adult biologically is something that just happens, whether we want it to or not. Becoming an adult spiritually is nothing less than a choice. It won’t happen until we decide to think critically about what we believe, no matter how threatening that may feel. Unquestioned faith is not faith, it’s just a bumper sticker looking for a place to ride. Unquestioned faith is not faith, it’s a conscience lazily surrendered to the latest folk-faith fad. Too many people these days have not one piece of their faith that is their own.

It’s never too late to choose to grow up.