The Faith That Isn’t


You can’t be a Christian very long before you must come to grips with the meaning of faith. And in America that faith will come down to either a naïve faith or a mature one.

Maturity, at least if the brochures are right, is the true hallmark of Christian enlightenment. It’s easy to spot someone with a mature faith. They have that knowing, philosophical smile whenever they spot some brand spankin’ new believer anxious to be about God’s work, that person with a naïve faith that hasn’t been around the block a time or two.

The person with a mature faith understands that very few people ever see real results in prayer. That mature person knows that it’s one thing to believe something and altogether a different thing to make it happen. Supplementing one’s wishes with a little elbow grease never hurt anyone. The mature person of faith knows that backup plans are needed when idealism falls through. Sure, God is ready to say yes to the faithful, but it’s smart to hedge one’s bets against failure.

When Joe Sixpack loses his job during the recession, the counselor with the mature faith readily advises Joe to immediately find another job, any job. “God can’t drive a parked car,” the counselor says—with a wink. Because there’s always a wink or a reassuring pat on the back when mature faith is involved.

No, the American Christian of mature faith comprehends what the person with the naïve faith doesn’t. And his church makes him an elder or a committee supervisor for his discernment. Because we need his common sense wisdom and leadership. We don’t want to make the mistakes of blindly following some starry-eyed dreamer with a naïve faith who wants to change the world for Christ.

So we hold up the person of mature faith. He’s the model. And his common sense faith is an example for us all.

Except, as I see it, that mature “faith” isn’t really faith at all.

The Lord makes it clear:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….”
—Matthew 18:1-3

You see, it’s the person with the naïve faith, the one who believes there stands no impediment to the God of the Universe, who is the real warrior in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the one who believes that nothing is impossible with God. This is the person who takes God’s word at…well, His word. This is the one who sends the devil scurrying back to hell.

I’d like to find a real Christian today who believes the following:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalms 127:1

Instead, we of “mature” faith like to force God’s hand. When we feel we’ve waited long enough, we build the house, we watch over the city. Because faith in God is nice, but if you’re going to build houses and protect cities, nothing beats the sweat of the brow. Yes, Jesus, I believe you...So leave the waiting in the prayer closet to the naïve, and let’s get the real men out there to do the job pronto. And for all our sakes, make sure we have a Plan B.

This is what passes for maturity today.

No, man’s common sense is just that, common. It takes a real naïf, a true fool, to think otherwise, to see with uncommon vision, to have God’s perspective.

Frankly, I’m a bit sick of all the people with supposedly mature faith who sit around saying, “Yes, but….” Those “buts” have a knack for getting in the way, stymieing the work of the Lord. Whenever those mature people bless us with their smarts, you can almost hear someone muttering along with them: “Isn’t that just Jesus, the carpenter’s son?”

You’ve got poor, uneducated nobodies in India leading thousands to Christ, laying their hands on the sick and watching them get healed. Meanwhile, you’ve got hyper-rationalists masquerading as the mature people in the church who raise their objections and quote from their science and philosophy books all the reasons why none of that can be happening.

Me? I’ll stick with Isaiah on this one:

…and a little child shall lead them.
—Isaiah 11:6b

When the World Was New


Christ blessing childrenWhen I left my son at 9:30 PM, he had his Bible folded over his chest, waiting for me to leave so he could wander over to his reading corner (complete with a beanbag chair and a funky five-headed lamp) and finish reading about the Passover. He couldn’t wait.

I let him read at night. As a precocious reader, he eats up just about any reading material we give him. I could no sooner punish him for staying up to read than I could punish myself for staying up to blog. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles.

This afternoon, he asked why serpents are evil. I told him God made all things good and that the snakes we see around outside our house keep mice in check. I mentioned that the devil took the form of a serpent when he deceived Adam and Eve, but the word serpent could be broader than snake. Then he asked to define the difference between a serpent and a snake. When I asked where he was getting this from, he mentioned the story of Aaron throwing down his staff and it turning into a serpent. Wasn’t Aaron a good guy? What was he doing messing around with serpents?

After his obviously faux attempt to go to bed this evening, he hopped into his beanbag chair and read through the Egyptian plagues, eventually answering his own question about the Passover. When I mentioned earlier that Passover started two days ago, you could see the excitement in his eyes. He thought it was “cool” that the narrative he now read just so happened to coincide with the actual events of thousands of years ago.

When the world was new to us, wonder filled every moment. Who knew what astonishing revelation might unfold before our wide innocent eyes. Magic filled each breath. Possibilities hid behind every corner, ready to unleash the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

What a pity then that I read so many Christian sites on the Web and note all the child-like wonder sucked right out of them. How sad for us that we traded in our amazement at the mysteries of God for some cut-and-dried “faith” that’s overly diced and ludicrously dessicated.

I won’t hold myself up as the pinnacle of Christian practice by any means, but the older I get, the more I see God restoring the wonder in my life. Something about maturity in Christ recaptures our childlikeness, that winsome inner spectacle that never ceases to amaze us who are His dwelling place. Anything is possible! What can He not do? If we’re not tracking with that kind of “inverted maturity,” we instead turn into grizzled and bitter veterans of the spiritual war. I see far too many people on the path to that cold, hard anti-faith. God help them!

For the Christian, every day becomes that day when the world was new. If we’re living consecrated, abandoned lives. If we died at the cross.

Big ifs, but not too big for a magnificent God to make real in the hearts of His children.

{Image: detail from stained glass window from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Wyandotte, MI}

When Parents Fumble for Answers


I had a second cousin on my dad’s side who was older than me; her name was Lois. She was a big, warm-hearted person with a nice laugh who was always nice to me. My dad, who was never the social sort, really liked Lois, too. And like many children, I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand the whole relational thing, so Lois was always “Aunt Lois” to me.

When I was about twelve, Lois developed leukemia. I remember many nights I spent praying for Lois. In fact, I think I prayed for Lois more than anyone or anything I can remember from that time. I remember reading verse after verse about how God heals. I prayed my heart out for Lois.

She died a little more than a year later in her young thirties. I was so broken up by this that I did not want to go to the funeral because I thought it was my fault that she died. Part of my childhood died with her.

Friday, I had to take my four-year-old son to the emergency room at the local children’s hospital. Despite my constant care and attention (and only three hours of sleep each on Thursday and Friday AM), I could not keep enough fluids in him to prevent his getting dehydrated. Father & son, hand in handHe entered that vicious vomit cycle of losing so much water from his system that adding it only made him more nauseous. In the end, nothing could stay down. He awoke Friday morning looking like one of those hollow-eyed waifs you see in ads for Third World children’s charities.

Now he’s a resilient kid, and despite some bad allergies to furry animals, he’s relatively healthy. Never once have I heard him say, “Daddy, I feel really terrible,” but he did so today. He looked really terrible, too. So at 8:30 AM, I sat half-conscious beside him and said, “Let’s pray for God to heal you.” After I prayed, he looked up at me and said, “I still feel terrible. Why didn’t God heal me? Why will I have to go to the doctor?”

It was the look on his face that broke something inside of me. That look reminded me of how I felt when my dad came into my room late one night to tell me that Lois had died. The expression I must’ve given my dad then was the same one I now saw in my own son’s eyes.

In that teachable moment, I tried to distill the ideas of special grace versus common grace to him, to tell him that God heals alone and sometimes He uses doctors, but that hurt look remained. There was the chink in the armor of childlike faith in a little boy whom I wished would never lose that simple faith that children seem to be born with, the faith Jesus commends for all of us.

He didn’t say much to me the rest of the afternoon. They turned the TV on in the room they gave him at the hospital, and through much of the four hours we were there watching the electrolyte solution plump him up like air in a deflated balloon, he was glued to Nickelodeon’s snarky cartoons for adults packaged for kids. When I’d had enough of the veiled references, we switched to Nick, Jr. Me, the one with all the answers, didn’t seem too filled with them in that moment and I couldn’t compete with the TV. And though he didn’t once cry at the hospital, despite the IV dripline jabbed in his hand, he cried when he got home over a waxed paper pill cup he’d clung to during the whole ordeal; I’d thrown it away as we were leaving the emergency room.

He’s physically fine now. And though he’d already seen a brain full of TV, his mom and I had rented Singing in the Rain and wanted to watch it before we had to take it back to the library. My son laughed his head off during Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” scene, and for a while everything seemed like it had always been.

I was a sheltered child. Even at in my 20s, I was pretty naïve. I regret none of that. Yet trying to preserve childhood today is an effort I think all of us underestimated when we started having babies. I thought I knew how to handle every possible outcome, but I didn’t know what to do about the look of abject disappointment I saw in the eyes of my own child when he realized that God was not going to make him better there and then, and that a trip to the doctor, and then to the hospital, was the only outcome. In that moment was a slow leaching away of the reservoir of childlike faith that Jesus loved in the children He blessed.

Millstones. I started thinking about millstones we tie around the necks of people less spiritually mature than we are. Had I said something in the past to my son that setup the expectation that was not fulfilled? Not as far as I knew. Though I’m relentless in turning what he hears of naturalistic explanations for life back to explanations of the workings of God in Creation, I must’ve left open a chink.

Adults put on the full armor of God through the spiritual disciplines and intense discipleship. But children must don that armor through the grace of God working in their parents’ personal instruction. With so many forces of darkness attacking from untold directions, I often feel unprepared for that task. The last thing I want to see happen with my son is for me to fumble the answers, to fail to provide his cover as he moves into adulthood.

It’s that look of innocence lost in a child’s eyes that should chill every parent to the bone.