Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Questioning your faith can make it stronger

One night this week, as I was driving home, I noticed a big flashing sign that said a part of the highway would be shut down. I made a mental note, but I didn’t worry about it because the sign said it would be open during the times I normally travel.

So I got on the road the next morning and approached the highway junction, and I was surprised to see a sign that said: Right Lane Closed Ahead!

Well, the other sign had said it would be open. Was it wrong?

Not wanting to take any chances, I jumped into the left lane and continued on. And continued on. And continued on. And surprise, surprise, surprise—the right lane wasn’t closed after all.

I could have trusted that first sign, but I wasn’t sure.

Has that ever happened to you in your faith? You heard the truth first and then someone contradicted it and you questioned your beliefs?

It’s happened to me. I think I know what I believe and then someone I respect or someone who I think knows more than I do tells me I’m wrong. And it shakes me. And I spend a lot of wasted time worrying that I’ve been making the wrong decisions.

I used to stress myself out, but that doesn’t really accomplish anything. I don’t learn anything from it, that’s for sure.

What I have learned to do is to go to the source when I have a question. If it’s a question about work, I go to my boss. If it’s a question about writing, I go to books I trust. If it’s a question of faith, I go to the Bible.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

The Bible claims to be the Word of God over and over again, which is different than any other religious type of manuscript. I spent nearly 1,000 words yesterday morning on how the Bible is different from other books, so I won’t rehash that here. Here I’m just going to assume that if you’re a Christ-follower, you believe the Bible.

The Bible should be our go-to source for how to live our lives. Not talk shows. Not 12-step guides. Not our friends. And not even our family members. Yes, consult them. Yes, get their thoughts. Consider their opinions. But realize that the one source for truth is the Bible.

Why? Because the Bible came from God. God inspired the writers of the Bible to pen the words He wanted so that throughout the ages, God could speak to His people.

If you want to build a house, you have to know your foundation is strong. If you want to sit on a chair, you have to know it’s going to support your weight. And if you want to make a difficult choice about your faith, you should know that what you’re being told is true.

It’s okay to question what you’ve been told. It doesn’t matter if it’s your pastor of 20 years. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend of 10 years. Your parents? Your siblings? Your coworkers?

I’m not saying don’t trust them. I’m just saying think twice before you put your life in the hands of someone else’s interpretation of Truth without checking it out for yourself.

In the end, the person responsible for your walk is you. The person who will be held accountable for his or her choices is you. You won’t be able to shift the blame because God knows your heart. So you’d better be sure you know what you believe and why, and when someone questions what you believe (and they will), you’d better be prepared to seek an answer in the right place.

Christians can be the most critical people on Earth. We think we know best, not only for ourselves but for everyone else around us. And maybe we’re just trying to help, but I really think in many instances we do more harm than good, especially when we preach at people and refuse to actually help them when they need it.

So don’t let someone’s disagreement shake you. People will disagree with you, and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. But that doesn’t mean your faith has to get weaker.

Actually, when you have a question about your faith and you take the time and make the effort to seek the answer in the Bible and ask God for His help, you’ll find your faith gets stronger.

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The One O'clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Agree to disagree

I don’t drink. That is a conviction in my life, something I have decided that doesn’t belong in my relationship with God. I take no issue with other people drinking (as long as getting drunk isn’t involved), and I have tried a sip or two of wine. But I will not drink on any sort of regular basis. For me, that isn’t a preference. It’s something I feel could become a major stumbling block in my life, so I have chosen not to do it.

I hate skirts, and I don’t particularly care for shorts. I like pants. I like jeans. But sometimes I have to wear a dress for work. Sometimes it’s appropriate to wear a skirt for business reasons. I’m not against it. Choosing to do it won’t place a stumbling block in my personal relationship with Christ. I’ll be uncomfortable (and I’ll probably grumble), but I can cope.

Coping with other people’s preferences isn’t that difficult. Coping with other people’s convictions can often be extraordinarily frustrating. I have many, many friends who have different preferences than I do. And I have even more friends who have different convictions than I do. And that’s absolutely fine. That’s awesome. Having a variety of friends from different backgrounds and in different age groups and life experiences and religions is a valuable gift.

Disagreeing on preferences is normal. Everyone likes or prefers different things. Coffee or tea? Winter or summer? Action movie or chick flick? Oxford comma or AP comma? Right? Disagreeing over preferences isn’t a big deal. Sometimes we make it a big deal, but if one person is willing to back off, usually the conflict can be resolved rather quickly. But the big problem comes when people clash over convictions. So what happens when you get to that point? What do you do when people disagree with your faith?

The One O'clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

The One O’clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Romans 12:18.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

s choices? How do you handle that? We’re supposed to do everything in our power to live at peace with others, like-minded believers and others included. If you are the sort of person who likes to call people out on what they believe, more power to you. But let me just say that if you intend to challenge someone’s faith, you’d better be completely sure about what’s true and what’s not, and you’d better be able to back it up.

I’ve had many conversations with people who’ve told me my faith is worthless because the Bible is a pack of lies. But when I challenge them in return, they tell me they’ve never read the Bible. So I won’t discuss it with them after that. I shut the conversation down because if they are going to challenge my faith without even bothering to understand what I believe and why, it’s not a discussion worth having.

Not trying to be harsh. Just being honest.

Generally speaking, I don’t challenge people’s faith or convictions. I figure people believe what they want to believe, and that choice is 100% entirely up to them. I’ll only speak up when my own faith is challenged or if someone is genuinely asking questions about it. I decided long ago not to be the sort of person who walks around with a bullhorn and a King James Version Bible looking for opportunities to beat sinners into submission. I’ve known too many people like that, and they aren’t high on my list of favorite people.

I would much rather be the person people come to over their own volition for advice and counsel and share my faith with them that way. And if you end up in that position, don’t be afraid to be open and honest about your faith. That person came to you for a reason. That means they saw something in you that was likeable and wise. So don’t screw it up by trying to sound uber-spiritual. Just be yourself. Tell them what you’ve learned about God. Most of all, just love them, but don’t compromise truth for love. That’s the worst mistake you can make.

You get truth from the Bible. You get truth from God. That’s where your convictions should come from, and, honestly, that’s where your preferences should come from too.

Is everyone going to agree with you? No way. I wish I could say they will, but they won’t. But if you strive to be honest and respectful and loving in everything you say, people will understand where you’re coming from. People aren’t always as closed minded as we think. Most of the time, if you really are a genuine Christ follower who tries to live like Jesus would, people who don’t live that way are inordinately curious. True Christ followers are puzzles to people who don’t know Him.

So be the kind of person who people want to approach. Let them ask their questions. Invite them. And then answer them truthfully with as much love as you can muster and a little bit extra that comes from the Holy Spirit and see what God does.

Don’t compromise the truth. It’s not written anywhere that compromise is required for peace between people. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best option. The only requirement for real peace between people is love.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Agree or disagree but don’t stop moving forward

We live in a contentious era. It’s favorable and even popular to argue a point where you disagree. The invention of chat rooms and blogs and social media has allowed people from every walk of life all across the world to sound off on each and every topic of discussion that is brought to light in a public forum, and while healthy conversation and discussion is useful, one-sided arguments where others aren’t allowed to disagree never are. But it’s the one-sided arguments that don’t allow discussion that have become more and more prevalent.

In our culture, it is a social norm to immediately think that if someone disagrees with you, they hate you. I’m not quite sure where this concept came from, but we have been inundated with the idea that simple disagreement means a complete inability to live and work together. As far as most people are concerned, we must agree, or we can’t talk to each other.

Why is that? Why must we agree? Why must one person compromise his or her opinions or beliefs to make another person feel better about their own? I think there’s another issue at the heart of that matter. And there’s another issue in the lack of civility that has permeated our culture too. But in reading through Philippians, I realized something about agreeing to disagree: It needs to happen in the Church.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:15-16.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

I’d never really thought about it. Whenever I think about people having major disagreements, I usually go back to the debates I sat in on when I was in college. I remember having to I listen to one on homosexuality, and all I really took away from that debate was that my whole college despised the biblical view of gender and completely disrespected anyone who followed biblical principles. Of course, it didn’t surprise me, but I was shocked that the presenter onstage wasn’t even allowed to talk about his views because the audience kept shouting angrily at him. The moderator did nothing to stop it.

When I think about disagreements, that’s what I think of.

But you know what? Major disagreements happen in the church all the time. Even if you have an awesome church, disagreements are still going to happen. Why? Because everybody is different. We all look at each other differently. We all look at life differently. And our different experiences in life have shaped the way we live. And these differences extend to our walk with God too.

There are a lot of Christians in the world. Those people who believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because of Him alone they are going to heaven and they can have a relationship with God are everywhere, in every country. But if you put them all in the same room, it’s very likely that none of them will agree on anything else. Cultures are different. Personalities are different. Everything is different.

And it’s the same inside a church. A church is a group of people made up of different backgrounds, and if they don’t focus on what matters, if they don’t focus on what is the same, the differences will tear them apart. I’d like to say that disagreements in the church are more civil than disagreements in the world, but it’s not true. Oftentimes disagreements in the church are more vicious than what goes on in the world.

But no matter if your disagreement is with someone who doesn’t believe or with someone who does, the way to deal with it is the same:

Agree on what matters. Let God work everything else out. And keep moving forward.

That’s it.

Yes, sometimes it’s important to debate if everyone is given a voice. Yes, sometimes it’s important to argue as long as emotions stay out of it. Disagreements are healthy because they help us see other people’s points of view, but disagreeing doesn’t mean we hate each other. Disagreeing doesn’t mean you have the right to be vicious and mean to other people. Disagreeing is just someone with a different life experience trying to come to grips with you and your perspective on life. And if you listen to them, you’ll gain valuable insight. You may not agree. You may never agree. But that’s okay.

But you do have to listen. That’s part of a discussion. That’s part of a conversation. Listening. Not sitting still and clinging to your own perspectives, waiting for the opportunity to strike where your opponent is weak. That’s not listening. That’s premeditated attack.

And I can tell you from personal experience, the church excels at premeditated attacks. So do Christians.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s important to agree. We do have to agree on the things that matter. But even if you get to the place where you can’t agree, that doesn’t mean you can be cruel. And within a church or a family or a business or whatever, when you disagree, let it go. Try to find a solution, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Don’t focus on it. Don’t press it. Don’t keep going back to it over and over and over.

Pray that God will make it clear, whether it needs to be clarified to someone else or to you.

But whatever you do, don’t move backward. Don’t turn back. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Hold on to the progress that you have already made because if you take a step back, Satan has won. And that’s what this is really about. That’s where strife and dissention really comes from, a ploy to hurt the cause of Christ.

You won’t agree with everyone. And not everyone will agree with you. Get over it. But you can focus on the perspectives that you share. And even if nobody agrees, you can still be civil. And let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to listen to someone who’s civil than it is to someone who’s rude.