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  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

Mark 9:23 “All things are possible for the one who believes.”

Yesterday I wrote about a friend who had some questions on faith that we discussed over dinner. Another one of those concerns had to do with the fact that he still had doubts. “I’m just not sure that I can fully accept that everything in the bible happened exactly as it’s written.”

I replied “my mom once said to me that she’s visited a lot of different churches, and some of them take a more literal interpretation of the bible, and some of them take a more poetic interpretation of parts of the bible. One thing that she noticed is that those churches that take a more literal approach tend to see more miracles than those that interpret more loosely. That kind of makes sense, because a large body of peer-reviewed research demonstrates that thinking something is possible makes it more possible. That’s why sprinters visualize winning a race before they compete. It’s why self-help gurus espouse vision boards. And while I believe spiritual practices are especially powerful, even atheist scientists admit that people who pray get healed of ailments more than those who don’t.

If you believe that Moses actually parted the Red Sea, that Jesus actually walked on water, that even Peter’s shadow actually healed the sick, then believing for a promotion, a restored relationship or healing of cancer is no big deal. You don’t always get what you want, but if you have faith that it can happen, it’s way more likely to happen. Even atheists believe that.”

What you believe is also a choice. In a study titled “The Biochemistry of Belief,” three psychiatrists from India highlighted that “one of the biggest misconceptions people often harbor is that belief is a static, intellectual concept… Beliefs are a choice. We have the power to choose our beliefs.”

So if we can choose our beliefs, and believing in a literal interpretation of the bible leads to more miraculous outcomes, then well the pragmatist in me will choose to believe it’s all literally true. I’d take that trade all day long. But honestly there are days when I have questions too. So do I beat myself up over it? There are also days when I encounter believers with different theology than me, or folks who follow different gods. Does that threaten my sense of intellectual consistency if some of their arguments make some sense?

Honestly it used to. I often felt a sense of defensiveness when someone challenged my theology. But I realized that my tone and posture when defending myself often resembled that of the Pharisees more than it did that of Jesus. The most learned leaders of his day got so many things wrong about the nature of God and of love. So who am I to say I’ve got it all right? Surely I need to have a bit more humility than that.

The other day I posted about how two different parts of the brain can actually believe two different things at one time. It’s kind of how two different people within a team can believe two different things, but ultimately what matters is that they can “disagree and commit” to use Jeff Bezos language. If I had to peer into the inner workings of my brain, I’m sure there are moments where I 80% believe that xyz happened in the Bible and 20% am not so sure. But I’m ok with that now, because I know that what I believe is a choice. And I know I choose to have faith.

Dear God, thanks for giving us your word. Long before psychiatry journals and self-help books, you laid out the key to living a meaningful and fulfilled life. I choose to love you with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

A few weeks back Elaine and I had dinner with a couple friends. The girlfriend had been a believer for a long time but recently found new intimacy in her relationship with God. The boyfriend was not a believer, but came to form a recent interest about God, (largely stemming from an interest in this new girlfriend.) He knew that faith was important to her, and that if he wanted to settle down, he would have to shift so they could start from the same foundation.

After sharing some stories and catching up, Elaine asked the boyfriend “so how’s that faith stuff coming?” He relayed that he was open learning more, but that he had a few concerns. I think the one that really stuck out for me was this idea that if he became a Christian he’d feel separate from his friends and family who were not believers.

I replied that while everyone’s experience is different, I’ve found that as I get closer to God I actually feel more connected to people from all faiths and all backgrounds. The natural human state is to treat people well when they’re like you. If someone shares your DNA, then you love them. If you went to the same school, or share the same ethnicity, you’re more likely to want to help them. If you believe the same thing, then you’re more likely to trust them.

But scripture calls us to honor those who do not share our DNA, our school, our hometown or our belief system. You’re not just to love your friends and family. The call is to love your enemies. That is an impossible standard, and one I’ve only recently begun to imagine possible. “So all the more if you get close to God, I think you’ll be a better friend despite any differences.”

We discussed a few other concerns, (maybe I can share in subsequent posts), but later that night our friends went for a walk and the boyfriend said the sinner’s prayer.

Dear God, thanks for being such a caring father and for giving us the perfect example of true love. Thank you for pursuing us, and giving us relationship with you. I can’t wait to see the fruits of what you have in store for this beautiful couple. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

Jeremiah 23:24 “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

The other day the boys and I watched “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” as part of our daily devotional time. The film from 1972 outlines the life of St Francis of Assisi, who was born the son of a wealthy silk merchant but later renounced his great wealth to pursue a life dedicated to poverty in pursuing Jesus. In one dramatic scene, Francesco takes his expensive clothes off and gives them to a beggar in front of a crowd gathered in the town square. At this point my son Nate’s eyes widened…

“Apa! He is taking off his clothes!!!”

“Yes he is Nate Nate.”

“I can see his bum bum!” [Then with a giggle…] “He is not Saint Francis. He is Saint Bum Bum!”

(This might seem sacrilegious, but Nate is 5 so we cut him some slack.)

From now on I’m afraid that at the mention of his name, my mind will always revert to St Francis’ exhibitionist tendencies. But really the character trait that I find most exemplary from his life is the ability to see God in everyone and everything. St Francis experienced such intimacy with Jesus, that he loved everyone around him, rich or poor, near or far, as a literal extension of his own body. He loved his neighbor as himself. He did unto others as he would have them do unto him.

As I draw nearer to God, I find myself drawing lines between myself and others less, and seeing them as an extension of myself. I also see God in them. But St Francis took this to another level, not only seeing other people, but all of God’s creation as an extension of himself. He referred to the sun as Brother Sun, and to the moon as Sister Moon. When villagers ran terrified from a wolf who ate their young, he fed and spoke to the wolf who then reportedly stopped attacking the townspeople. On one journey with his disciples through the Spoleto Valley, St Francis saw a large flock of birds had gathered in some trees. He asked his troop to pause while he “went to preach to the birds for a little while.” The sermon was recorded by some of his followers.

"My sweet little sisters, birds of the sky," Francis said, "you are bound to heaven, to God, your Creator. In every beat of your wings and every note of your songs, praise him. He has given you the greatest of gifts, the freedom of the air. You neither sow, nor reap, yet God provides for you the most delicious food, rivers, and lakes to quench your thirst, mountains, and valleys for your home, tall trees to build your nests, and the most beautiful clothing: a change of feathers with every season. You and your kind were preserved in Noah's Ark. Clearly, our Creator loves you dearly, since he gives you gifts so abundantly. So please beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and always sing praise to God."

The monks recorded that these birds listened intently.

"While Francis said these words, all those birds began to open their beaks, and stretch out their necks, and spread their wings, and bend their heads reverently toward the earth, and with acts and songs, they showed that the holy father [Francis] gave them great pleasure."

Wow. My man preached to birds.

Lord, I often struggle to love people properly. What I would give to be so filled with the spirit that I could love all of your creation… to feel the communion and connectedness to you and your universe that you’ve designed us for. I love you. I invite you into every part of my life today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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