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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lost Your Faith? It's Time to Rebuild, Part 2 - Building on the Foundation

Our home has a pretty open floor plan. We like having less walls and more room to run and play, laugh and dance. We throw balls and climb walls. When the kids were smaller we had a basketball hoop tied to a pillar in our living room. Check it out in the background of this cute picture of Rachel and Ryan.

We designed our home to be practical, usable, a place to have fun.

In fact, we were able to design our home on the computer before it was built. In the original plans, we wanted to have an open kitchen, dining room and living room on the first floor with only one closed room with doors that could serve as a bedroom for an elderly grandparent or parent if it was ever needed.

When the architect looked at our floor plan, he quickly saw the problem. We had no support for the second floor. Unfortunately, if we didn’t put in posts for support, we would have soon had a one story house. It would have collapsed under its own weight.

So, we compromised.

That’s what we do, isn’t it. We have plans and dreams and hopes and desires. Then, we face reality and we make choices. Some things are worth the extra money, extra time, or extra work to have them just so, and other things aren’t. They just aren’t that important.

Some walls in our house are weight bearing walls; others are simply for design purposes. Together they make up the structure of our house.

Confuse the two when we are doing remodeling and there can be big problems.

The same can be said for our houses of faith. Assuming that we are building on a solid foundation, (To see Part 1 of this series to learn more about a solid foundation, click here) we need supporting walls. These are important truths that aren’t foundational.

In fact, a solid foundation is so singular, so precise, there is no room for most of our beliefs. Besides the foundational belief, everything else falls in one of two categories. beliefs are either structural or décor.

The Structure

What are these structural beliefs? Here are a few examples of what might be structural to you.

(For some, these concepts might not have an impact on your faith and so for you they wouldn't be structural but rather part of the décor. For others, some of these beliefs may take priority over others. Those that take priority would be weight bearing walls.)

Is the Bible inspired by God? Is it true? Does it contain errors and misrepresentations of God, people, the earth, etc.? And to what extent?

Was the world created in 7 literal days? Was it created over millions of years? Was there a literal Adam and Eve or are they representations or symbols?

Was Christ truly born of a virgin? Did he know that he was the Son of God all His life or did he learn that as he grew up? What was the significance of his baptism by John?

What is our responsibility to the poor, to the outcast, to prisoners, to modern day slaves, to the mentally ill, to the physically disabled, to any who are oppressed?

What is our responsibility to the world, to our countries, to our people, to our culture? Are we to evangelize with words or deeds or both? As citizens, what is our responsibility? Are we to vote if we are able?

Will there be a rapture? Is the anti-Christ really coming? Will there be a thousand years when Christ will reign on this earth? Or are these symbolic ways to understand the end times?

Our perspectives about communion, baptism, the church, the differences between men and women, etc. are all structural beliefs. Some are more important than others based on our perspective.

These are our structural beliefs and though they change over time, they give shape to our faith. Some years, we focus on activism. Others we lean inward for spiritual renewal and growth. Some years we focus on grief and healing. Others we lean toward celebration.

Like my physical house, my house of faith has an open floor plan. I have some main pillars for support, but lots of open spaces for conversation and interaction. If we can agree on our foundation, I am not closed off to too many ideas. I love discussing beliefs with others who have well-thought out floor plans of faith.

What your house of faith looks like, depends largely on how you answer this question: What beliefs are important to me? What beliefs, if they changed, would change how I perceive God, myself, and the world around me?

My advice to you is to build slowly, methodically. Hold everything lightly with open hands. Begin forming your opinions but keep an open mind. And never be afraid to tear down one of these beliefs and start over. But, do so deliberately, lovingly. We want our homes and our house of faith to be inviting and welcoming. We want them to be a safe place for us and for others.

If we have too many firm, unshakable beliefs, we might feel more secure, safer. We might feel like we are defending the true faith. But, what happens is we build lots of walls in our home. Our rooms become cramped and uncomfortable. Others don't feel welcome. And our faith house becomes a cold and uninviting place.

Build your house of faith with love and grace.

The Décor

The décor is what makes us feel at home. If you live in a house, think what it would be like if you removed all of your stuff and went to live somewhere else. Then, someone buys the house and moves in all of their stuff.

Is it the same house? Yes, of course.

But, is it your home? No, not really.

The furniture is different.
The paintings are different.
The feel is different.
The smell is different.
It just isn’t home.
That is what I mean by décor.

Décor is what makes your faith your own. If you and I took a multiple choice test on what we believe, we may check the same boxes off. But, our faith is still different.

Faith is mysterious that way. It can be shared in the sense that we can journey together with others, grow together, enjoy their company, but we never have the same faith. Our faith is unique, personal.

My house of faith is fit for me, right now. But over the years it has looked quite different. My tastes have changed. I like to spend more time alone than I did 20 years ago. Where I used to wear vibrant colors, I now enjoy more earth tones. As I have changed, my décor has changed.

But, the house, the house has remained pretty much the same since seminary.

I used to judge others based on my house of faith. I would assume that if others disagreed with me, it was because they were wrong and I was right. I didn't realize that their faith could be right for them though it was wrong for me.

It sounds so much like relativism as I type it. But, it is something much more. It is the infinite ability of a loving God to meet each of us where we are and not just leave us there, but to guide and lead and love us toward Himself.

Every person’s faith is unique. Each person’s relationship with Christ develops differently over time based on things that we cannot quantify or calculate.

Every house of faith is unique, specific to the person who lives there.

The Belief Test: Which Belief Is Which

If you aren't sure whether a belief is foundational, structural or décor, take this simple test:

Is it worth dying for? Is it worth living for?
Is it important? Does it add to my understanding of God, faith, and life?
Is it something that makes me feel comfortable and feels fresh and new?

My foundation is worth dying for.

Almost all of the apostles and many Christians to this day, have been martyred for their faith because they would not deny their foundation. Some report that more have been killed in the past century than at any other time in history. By one estimate, the year 2000 was the peak at 160,000 martyred for their faith in Christ. (The report acknowledges that the faith of individuals cannot be determined with certainty, so they calculate how many were killed because they were believed to be Christians.)

My foundation is also worth living for. I can spend the rest of my life in the service of Christ, sharing the good news of eternal life, the Gospel and I won't regret it. I won't.

But, my structure… not so much.

I wouldn’t choose to die to defend the right to have an abortion or a law making it illegal to have one. I wouldn’t die for Creation vs. the Big Bang, the virginal conception of Christ, a method of baptism, or details about communion.

My structural beliefs are real and important because they help me to make sense of my life and my faith. But, they are not worth living or dying for.

My décor? I hate even wasting breath on those. I could argue for or against them. Based on the time of day or what I had for dinner last night, I could argue either side depending on who wanted to argue with me. It just isn’t worth it. They make me feel comfortable. They bring a smile to my face. They are not important.

Throughout History

Denominations split over structural beliefs. Churches divide over décor. Individuals leave churches over décor. Rarely do we ever find ourselves arguing over foundational truths.

What Now?

Check your foundation. Do you have a relationship with Christ? (To see Part 1 of this series to learn more about a solid foundation, click here).

The fastest and simplest way to build your structural beliefs is to read the Bible and pray. Study the Bible. As you read, listen to the Holy Spirit guiding you. What resonates with your soul? What makes you feel alive and refreshes your soul?

When you lose your faith, it is normal to give up or feel lost and confused. Be patient with yourself. Rebuild your faith slowly and deliberately. Find some friends and let them be your church, your fellow journeyers in the faith.

There will be some rough times ahead. Be gracious to yourself and others. Your new house of faith might look quite different than what used to be acceptable to your old friends.

Give them time to adjust as you grow and change.

Don't build your walls to shut people out. Build them to welcome people and invite them in. As your house of faith takes shape you will be more and more comfortable with it. But, don't wait until its finished before you have guests.

May God bless you as you build. He is faithful and will guide you.

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