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Month: March, 2014

Certainty and Age

How old we are, oftentimes directly affects our beliefs about things. Prior to the onset of abstract thinking, we tend to take concepts at face value and quite literally. You don’t really question things like Creation and the Garden of Eden, or the Great Flood and the Ark. These are all things you just accept, because…God. AS you age and critical thinking and abstract thought begin to surface we often find ourselves replacing that child-like faith with fervor. Passion and really felt faith, begins to be how we identify our belief. We are seventeen, invincible and we know everything. God is awesome, and we are on top of the world.

Then it happens, the great crises of faith. This fervency is abated. Usually, it goes hand in hand with an emotional crises, or introduction to new world views that we were not prepared for. But as you slide into your twenties that fervor recedes along with the gallons and gallons of hormones you were living off of. Then, for many, the twenties are a time of darkness and struggle. Either a slow terrifying sink into doubt and unbelief, or a titanic struggle to justify the loss of fervor that you identified as spiritual certainty.

Why do so many succumb to doubt and then unbelief at this period in their life? The excuses are legion, but the reasons are actually few. They have been seduced by an action movie faith. They reach high fervor and settle in thinking this all there is to faith, and certainty. When the tide of emotion and bodily chemical start to normalize they are left hollow and since they identified certainty and faith with that range of positive emotions, when they began to fade, so went their faith, to be replaced by doubt and unbelief.

Understanding these changes for what they are can help. Recognizing and accepting physiological changes and on-setting maturity will help in forming a foundational faith structure. Replacing these romantic notions of faith with more realistic ones may not be easy, but it will be good.



I have recently been playing an online game called Rust.
Rust is a survival game where you start out naked (mostly…don’t worry its PG) with a rock, and you have to collect things to build shelter, find food, make weapons etc.  There are bears and wolves and such that will eat you if you aren’t careful, but most dangerous of all…there are other players. Other people trying to survive too, and if wacking you over the head and taking your stuff helps them survive, then they will often do that too. In essence you spend much of the game paranoid of other characters you run into… do they have a better weapon? Are they as friendly as they appear? Is their offer to come back to their house and share their food an elaborate trap?

Well, as you can imagine, best part of the game is not the game-play itself, but rather the human interaction, and the level of creativity some people reach. Observe the following two stories:

(these stories are not mine, and have been lifted from Reddit, where I found them.)

So I’m walking in the middle of the day, just trying to find my friend, back before I knew where anything was. I was completely naked, just harvesting some stone in a field when I hear a voice yell from behind me:

Dude: “HEY BUDDY, ARE YOU HIRING?” Me: “Uhhh what?” Dude: “ARE YOU HIRING MAN? COME ON, HIRE ME.” Me: “Uhm yes. Yes, I’m hiring.” Dude: “Awesome, here’s my resume.”

{Dude drops something on the ground, I walk closer to see what it is}

Me, internally, finally looking at the items: ((What the …, it’s just some torches))


The guy immediately starts hitting me with his rock, I manage to get a bit of distance between us, running away, shouting: “DUDE, DUDE, STOP IT, YOU’RE HIRED, YOU’RE HIRED!”

Dude stops, says: “Oh, ok then. I’m hired. I’ll protect you.”

He proceeds to follow me around for a bit, help me kill a wolf, and constantly, he’s approaching any passing player, saying: “Hey! Hey guys! This guy is hiring!”

I traveled with him a bit, before eventually we split up when we passed a rad town.



I was just smelting some metal and being cozy in my house, when suddenly I heard some faint steps outside. I told the guy to leave, but I kept hearing steps. I went outside, and couldn’t find anyone, so I went inside again. More steps. Went outside, and there he was, on a huge rock that was just beside my house, with the sun in the distance. I yelled at him to get out, but then he just suddenly started blasting “Circle of Life” while crouching and looking up towards the sun. Greatest moment ever. I snapped a pic before killing him.

 photo 2014-01-11_00003_zps511f6293.jpg


For further hilarity, google “Funny Rust Stories” or look Rust up on Reddit. Good times.

Secrecy, Our Prison

I am the only one here that struggles with doubt. All others seem to just have it all together. Others do not harbor the dark thoughts that I do. I am alone in this fear.

Secrecy feeds these ideas to us and each one forms another bar in our prison. Very few things can keep us bound in sin and darkness like isolation or secrecy. Its power is twofold, the first being its inward effect on us. Chance of self-deception sky-rocket, and we begin to convince ourselves of things that we never would have even entertained in we had had a sounding board nearby to discuss them with. One of the lies we contend with is that we are worse than those around us, but we must remember Romans 3 which asserts that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” We are not worse than others, because they are just as fallen as well. Another lie common to this refrain is that we are unique or alone in this weakness, but we must remember Ecclesiastes 1 which reminds us that “…there is nothing new under the sun.” and especially in our modern Western culture of doubt the vast majority of us begin in doubt and process from there.

The second part of secrecy’s power is found in its outward thrust. We already recognize the insidious lying voice inside trying to convince us of our extreme sin and unique evil, but we cannot forget the effect it has upon our outward selves. We hide from the very people who would bring us clarity or wisdom. In order to keep it hidden we do not seek counsel in which we could be straightened out or even comforted. We keep our mouths shut and choke behind our toothy smiles. Also, this perpetuates deception on our part to those around us. In our church family, or close friendships, where we should be open and honest, this creates a facade in order to protect us in our secrecy. Not only does it hurt and stunt us, but it brings us to lie to those we love the most around us.

Very few things perpetuate doubt like secrecy does. Keeping these terrifying thoughts inside only to be addressed in our own strength, a strength all too often found wanting. This isolates us, exaggerates our weakness, undercuts our support and lies to those we love the most. The worst part is that we have the key to this dark prison, if only we would open our mouth and chatter these bars. Do not be held alone in your weakness and doubt. Share it and perhaps discover something you didn’t not expect, strength.

External Stimuli’s Effect on Doubt

When one thinks about doubt, or any issue similarly tied to emotion and thought, one almost always turns inward. Introspection becomes the rule of the day. You close the shutters, lock the doors and turn the lights down low. No one is home, or answering the door anyway. The very core of doubt is thinking of oneself in relationship to something else. So why, would you not spend your energy focusing inward?

What one tends to forget is the obvious effect outward stimulus can have on doubt. What do you read? What types of shows do you watch? Media consumed is the single most ignored but pervasive sources of influences in the average Westerner’s life. Are your friends and those you surround yourself with encouraging? Or are they even doubt-filled themselves? Does the Music you listen to do anything to edify or lift you up? Are you sedentary or Active? Is the job you are in oppressive? Are you close enough to supportive family? Do you ever go out of your way to get out of your head and server others? Answering these questions privately and honestly may help you to discover some of the sources or at least influences of your doubt.

While not advocating reclusive monastic life choices, understanding these influences will go light years toward addressing and dealing with doubt. Perhaps you cannot leave the oppressive job, or should you even cut ties suddenly with a friend because they are not a wonderful Christian? Certainly not! But first understanding and taking inventory of these influences then making adjustments to habits and thought patters will go a long way in dealing with doubt. Locking oneself darkly away in one’s head will inevitably lead to the perpetuation of doubt. Alternatively, action, positive input and encouragement can all foster the growth of doubt’s ancient enemy, hope.

Fear of Sin

We so easily fall into legalistic pits. We like rules, as a people, no matter how often we rail against them. Very few of us actually desire anarchy. We like or even crave structure and rules, so when we ascribe to a worldview, it is not uncommon for us to immediately begin to look for its dos and don’ts. Something practical we can hold on to or even begin to use to gauge our success. In ancient Israel, this led to the rise of the pharisaical law and its required list of moral laws and guidelines. While rooted in good intentions, this led to a structure that the Son of God himself despised. These men were so afraid of sin that they built up a false religion around their true one in hopes of protecting it.

Can we begin to see the parallels here with our modern-day way of doing things. The Enlightenment, for all of its wonderful outworkings created a flood of anti-scriptural and severely liberal theologies. Men, believing themselves and their intellect to be the apex of creation,  believed themselves capable of knowing God without the virtue of His special revelation. Out of this rash of deviant theologies was born the neo-orthodoxy movement in Europe , and the fundamentalist movement in North America. These were the pendulum opposite reactions to the widespread liberal thought that the Enlightenment had birthed. North American fundamentalism developed from a well-meaning attempt at addressing heresy and misleading doctrine into a full-blown recreation of the pharisaical law. Suddenly, not only were more traditional theologies being preserved, but more conservative social structures were becoming law as well. One could not drink, smoke, dance or even attend the theater. These became the rules we would obsess over the next couple hundred years. They were the moral structure we would set up in order to gauge a man’s spirituality. We began to wonder if drunkenness is wrong, then to drink must be as well. If our body was a temple, then to smoke is evil.

I find myself then, asking, how much drink is too much? If my lips feel tingly, am I an alcoholic? If my head feels light have I sinned? I am so scared of crossing that line that the line becomes all that I can think about. I do not believe that Christ or the apostles wondered when they drank (which they undoubtedly did) if their lips were tingly, or their heads a little light, if they were drunkards after one drink or two. Scripture does not define what a drunkard was as it was generally and easily understood who the drunkard was, and what drunkenness was.

Ephesians 5 says “Do not become drunk with wine, for this leads to reckless behavior, rather be filled with the Spirit.”  The passage goes on to talk about what positive things you should be doing in order to be more like God. It is more focused on the need for a Spirit filled life, than it is on the need to expunge alcohol from one’s life.

Do not misunderstand me, though, I fully agree with the importance of grasping the weight  of your own sin, and what a price that was for Christ to pay for you. I do not wish to cheapen that by any means, but the Bible is clear in this. We are victors. We win, and we are righteous already, because we are made righteous by the one who paid our sin’s debt. We no longer owe that Strong Man anything and we are free to live in the hope of righteousness.

RETRO POST: For the Sacred

I will be periodically posting retro articles from an online Magazine that I wrote for a few years back called The Brew, in an effort to shake things up and possibly laugh a little more at myself. Enjoy!

December 2007

I remember standing in the circle with our hands joined, heads bowed, and quietly listening, as a 15-year-old boy poured his heart out to his Creator and periodically you could hear a grunt or sob of agreement. Our youth group had gathered to worship and now found itself engulfed in corporate prayer. The boy finished his prayer and Ray began to pray. Ray was different, he was mentally handicapped, and had quite a rough unique voice. His conversation always revolved around sports and movies. He couldn’t tell you anything about any of his friends or what he learned in school, but he could endlessly spit out stats from sports or what the latest movie was rated.

As he began to pray, his rough and raspy 14-year-old voice recited his simple, almost comical prayer. He mentioned things that no well-practiced Christian prayer would mention. He honestly sounded like a 4-year-old praying with a 70-year-old voice. As I listened to this boy pour out his heart so unabashedly to his God and noticed how spiritually naked he approached. I began to weep in shame at how false and self-righteous my prayer itself tended to be. He rattled off his sins with pure regret asking God to help him not do them any more. As my tears fell I began to hear it. I heard snickering. My head snapped up as I heard more and more kids glancing at Ray and giggling. One boy shoved another and pointed at Ray almost laughing out loud. I quickly looked to Ray to see his reaction, and true to Ray he was oblivious of their mockery, and my heart settled with an intention to give those boys a talk.

Then I began to get angry, Ray may not know or get it, but God sure would recognize the slight to Him. I thought of His holiness, and how sacred prayer is. These teens had the nerve to approach their God directly in prayer and then to laugh and mock the one boy who was so blatantly pure in his approach to prayer? I got so angry I was unable to focus for the rest of the prayer. I couldn’t believe that these teens who had grown up in church and all claimed a serious relationship with Christ didn’t even understand how holy our God is, or how sacred it is to commune with him. I calmed down as the prayer finished, and quietly apologized to my Creator for letting myself become so distracted from my communion from him, and finished off the night with the kids.

I pondered this event over the next week, and couldn’t shake how disturbing it was. In the Old Testament, before the New Covenant, there was only one person among all of God’s chosen, that could approach Him directly. The High Priest was the only person, allowed, and only on the Day of Atonement could he actually enter the Holy of Holies and be in God’s presence. On top of that, if the priest was not properly prepared and had sorted his own sin out with God before hand he would be struck dead in the presence of God. In light of that how can we approach this jealous and holy God, with anything but awe and trepidation? In Amos, we have a recounting of God’s disgust with the worship that His chosen were offering up to Him. It was following all of the right steps, yet was still soul-less and false. He described his disgust with their clanging and noise, and plainly we see here God’s reaction to a people who show no reverence to His holiness. This indicates it is not just form and liturgy that show proper respect for the sacredness of God’s presence, but rather the spirit behind it.

I later went back and spoke to the youth group on the holiness of God and its primary role in how sacred prayer must be. I had to keep it under 15 minutes and that ended up being the toughest part, but I had several teens come up to me afterwards and ask further questions so I had hope that something had set in.

Our culture has encouraged a buddy Jesus and played up the “friend” aspect of our relationship with God. Coupling this with the serious lack of sermons or studies from the Old Testament in churches today, we find a sad misrepresentation of who God is. We forget that he is Creator and wholly other. He is holy and interaction with him is sacred and never to be taken or treated lightheartedly.

Doubting Thomas, the Saint

24 But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” 26 After eight days His disciples were indoors again,and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.” 28 Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed.[e] Those who believe without seeing are blessed.” – John 20:24-29

Poor maligned Thomas, forevermore to be remembered as Doubting Thomas. How we look down on him and how we dismiss him for his weakness. Yet, we do so at our own peril. A great message is ignored in his story, one that not only gives us instruction but also good comfort. Thomas was a doubter. He refused to believe until his hands touched the wounds on Christ’s body, and while others marveled and believed, he stood chewing his lip in doubt.

We often equate doubt with unbelief and this too can be fatal to our faith. We have doubts, we struggle to believe, and thoughts of eternal dismissal come unbidden to our minds. It is usually then that we begin to question our faith and wonder if we truly believe since all of these doubts come bubbling up. An interesting twist comes forth here though. What was Jesus’ response to Thomas in the above passage? Does He reject him as an unbeliever, and remind him of hell as He has warned so many others? Does He call Thomas a viper and dismiss him as He did with the Pharisees?  Does he take a gentler route, and weep for the soul lost? No! He gives the proof asked for! He shows Thomas His hands and side, showing him He is the Risen Christ indeed. His response is simply this. You have asked for proof? Okay, here it is.

This response is not even that unique on God’s part either. In the end of the book of Matthew and also in Mark, the disciples are depressed and wracked with doubt after Jesus’ death. He comes to them and presents them with a charge, the Great Commission. He did not cast them out or reject them. Instead, He assumed or understood their belief in spite of their doubt, and then He assigned them a job. Not an insignificant job to hide them away so their depression and doubt would not tarnish the bright face of the Gospel. Rather, He tasked them with the Gospel, itself. Even in the Old Testament we see this with God’s prophets and mighty men. Gideon, a man of doubt, asked for proof and God granted it. Moses, so self-conscious he couldn’t believe that Yahweh could use him, and even questions God’s judgment to His ever-burning face. He was told to go and obey regardless.

Thomas, this poor maligned fool of a man, though wracked with doubt and demanding proof, still found himself confessing in the end, “My Lord, my God.” Fortunately for Thomas, and really, for us, doubt did not equal unbelief. So, do not blink and miss it. Don’t dismiss Thomas and his doubt, lest you miss the lesson intended there for all. We are Thomas, and we still believe.

Doubt and Our Disposition

I recently heard a sermon on the choosing of the twelve disciples. In it the speaker emphasizes that each one seemed to be a bad choice by the world’s standard when picking a team. Squabbling siblings, political extremists mixing with government taxmen, young ones brimming with inexperience, passionate hotheads who don’t give a thought to consequences. He reminded us of the hope we have as Christians to know that even in our brokenness and bumbling, God will choose us for His work.

His sermon was good, biblical and enlightening, but it got my mind going. It reminded me of our disposition, our status. We are bumbling and broken. As the speaker put it, we are a bunch of dweebs, dorks, and knuckleheads. This was important to take note of as one great contributor to doubt is uncertainty in ourselves. We naturally doubt ourselves due to our inadequacies and oftentimes then project that uncertainty and doubt onto God. If us spirit-let, sanctified, new man Christians can’t get life right, then our source of redemption or power must be circumspect, no? Are we not promised new life, and rebirth?  Yet here we are bumbling, miserable failures and the world looks on and laughs. Is it not a wonder then that we question those promises or even the very source of them?

We then begin to see one of the sources to our doubt. We can often cause it in ourselves. Through our own failings and uncertainties we find a root for the questioning. One must then wrestle with the legitimacy of this questioning. Who is at fault here and who is to blame. Is it logical or even plausible for us to consider this avenue of doubt when we know that we, and our shortcomings are its progenitors? In our insecurities we somehow find the boldness to question our Maker. Our sad disposition gives birth then to this doubt and we choke on it.

Hierarchy of Respect

As modern/postmodern beings, we don’t seem to like the concept of an Authority Figure. Especially,  in the area of parenting. God forbid that we should ever seem to be authoritarian parents who might be seen as not giving our children the respect we think they deserve. Oftentimes, there is even equality in status between a parent and child, if not proclaimed, at least in practice. The opposite extreme can end up, of course, being just as destructive. A totalitarian home where dictator parents rule with an iron fist will only breed rebellion and suppress learning.

So as we see that extremes beget mistakes, we begin to look at the healthy balance of the hierarchy of respect. We understand that being alive we garner a base level of respect, in the sense that you do not snuff out life where it is not needed. You have an injured bird, you don’t, or shouldn’t spend an afternoon burning ants with a spy glass. We respect life even at its most base form, or at least we know we should. The levels of respect are also cumulative. You would show that same level of respect to a human and likely more. Every person deserves a certain amount of respect and for the most part we would agree on this, at least in theory. Even if I do not know someone personally, I should not shoulder them aside, spit in their eye, or run them over at the cross walk in order to save a few moments of my time. This is because they are human and alive and deserve more respect than that.

This concept holds and continues as the relationship gets closer to the originator of the respect. If the subject in question is known personally to you then you would afford them even more respect. Not only would you NOT run them over at a cross walk, but you would go so far as to smile at them and wave, imparting some good will to them as you pass. You might even find yourself giving of your time or emotions to them, because as you have a certain closer relation to them, you will also afford them , in greater degree, a portion of your respect.

Then you take this idea further, and you examine what further respect you would then hold for relations, close friends, closer family members or even children. We then begin to realize that yes, no matter how permissive or authoritarian we are in parenting, we still will afford our children respect, and we must, lest we treat them worse than strangers, than animals. But this realization goes further than the fact that we must respect our children. It paves the way for hierarchical respect which allows that while I, of course, must respect my child, that respect is , by definition, going to be different  from the respect I have for a sibling, spouse, or even an elder or parent. Defining exactly what that difference is will be the sanctification challenge in ever parent’s life going forward.

Stephen Mattson

Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing.

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