Faith to Fail, part 3

Faith to Fail 3This is part 3 of a 3 part series on the topic of faith and failure. It was originally published on Glocal blog over at You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Joseph’s life was full of fail. First, his brothers hated him and plotted his death after he told them about his dreams, dreams that God had given him. Then, he was sold into slavery. Though he was prosperous in the house of Potiphar, he was tempted by his master’s wife. He was faithful and resisted the temptation, but he was thrown in prison anyway. He made friends while in prison, but was quickly forgotten. Over and over again, Joseph’s life was showing a pattern of coming up short when it mattered most.

Then one day his friend remembered his uncanny ability to interpret strange dreams. And Pharaoh was having some pretty strange dreams. There were these seven fat cows eaten up by seven skinny cows. What could it mean? Joseph knew.

Joseph was finally able to use his God given gift of interpretation to his benefit. Pharaoh showed him favor and made him second in command over all of Egypt. And though the road was littered with constant falls, he was finally standing tall. So tall in fact that his own family would eventually bow down to him just like those dreams God had given him years earlier.

Now, when you look at Joseph’s life it’s pretty easy to pick out all the times he had enough faith to fail. He kept his head and increased his faith in God, knowing that obedience was the true mark of a follower.

So let’s say that you were writing a book on faith. You’ve reserved one or two sentences for each of the Old Testament saints. You get to Joseph. What would you write? That his faith led him to divine interpretation? That his faith was most magnified when he resisted temptation? That his faith finally led him to success in the end?

Well, if you’re the writer of Hebrews that actually was your job. And guess what he chose to write about when he got to Joseph:

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.

Hebrews 11:22

Wait, what? That’s it? His example of faith was that he believed God would make sure his bones were buried in the right place. Sure his confidence in the exodus was commendable, but trusting in his final resting place? That’s not too exciting.

But think about this. Looking over Joseph’s life the only constant was inconsistency. Just when everything was going great, the rug would be pulled out from under him. And that’s just the stories we see in Genesis. What about the things that happened after Genesis 50?

I wonder if his life kept going up and down like the roller coaster it had been. Maybe he had problems with his kids. Maybe there was some in-fighting amongst the Egyptians. Military reigns are full of backstabbing and coups and I bet Joseph was squarely in the middle of a couple of scandals while in power.

Joseph’s life was a constant back and forth between success and failure, failure and success. He would fall down and pull himself back up…just to be thrown down again. And if we’re honest, our lives look a lot like that too. But through it all, Joseph held onto one promise: That he would eventually end up right where God had promised him.

In fact, he held onto that promise so tightly that he gave careful instructions about his very bones. For Joseph, success wasn’t about how much food was stored up in the barns of Egypt or how high up he had risen in the ranks. Success for him was gauged by his final resting place in the promises of God.

None of us have been promised smooth sailing on this side of eternity. In fact, the examples we see in the Bible lead us to believe it’s going to get a little bumpy. “What we go through right now,” Paul wrote to the Romans, “is nothing compared to what we’ll see on the other side.”

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28

Paul is talking about our future resting place. He’s not guaranteeing success or perfection here on earth. He’s saying that when bad things happen don’t worry, you’ve got a spot reserved for you in eternal glory.

Joseph understood that. He knew how inconsistent and unpredictable life could be. So he looked forward to a time when he could finally be in God’s presence forever.

No matter what happens in this life, we can be sure that God’s got a plan for everyone of us. That plan is for us to be with him forever and ever. Along the way we’ll encounter all kinds of good things and bad, failures and successes. But each of us that love God and are called by him will end up in his rest forever.

Faith to Fail, part 2

Faith to Fail 2This is part 2 of a 3 part series on the topic of faith and failure. It was originally published on Glocal blog over at You can find part 1 here.

We took a step of faith…and fell flat on our faces. We followed God where he directed us and ended up debt-ridden and dejected. So we moved back to Oklahoma, licked our wounds, and tried to rebuild.

Starting out a marriage with over $21,000 in debt was never in the plans, but it happened. And it happened as a direct result of a step of faith. So the next step was to pay off all that debt and get back on track. I got a job (not in ministry) and we set a budget. I worked hard and month by month we started paying off debt in big chunks. In less than two years we had done it. We paid off all that debt!

Then one day, while I was talking with God, I told him, “It’s too bad that it happened this way.”

“What do you mean, Chris?”

“Well, here was this opportunity for you to do something miraculous and answer our prayers and pay off our debt. You could have gotten all the glory for this. But now when I tell people about this, I’ll tell them that God got me into debt and I got me out of it.”

“Really, Chris?”

“Well, that’s the way it happened, right?”

“Let me ask you this…who helped you get that good paying job?”

“Well, you did. I prayed and you answered that prayer.”

“And who was it that gave you favor so that you got raises and bonuses that went a long way to paying off that debt?”


“And who was it that gave you the skills and abilities you used at that job? Who was it that gave you breath in your lungs and strength in your bones to get out of bed each day and go to work?”

“That would be you, God.”

“Okay. Do you want to go back and rethink that whole idea that you did it and not me?”

And there you have it. That was a real conversation that I had with God. And it was one of the most honest conversations I’ve ever had with anyone. The truth is that God did intervene. The same God that led us to take a step of faith was the same God that watched as we failed. And he’s the same God that picked us up, dusted us off, and pointed us in a new direction.

One of my favorite verses is this one, a little verse I sort of stumbled onto in Colossians one day:

I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.

Colossians 1:29 (emphasis added)

The struggle is mine and the work is hard, but it’s Christ’s power and not mine that works within me. My faith is not in my own abilities or powers; it’s in Christ’s power within me. The same faith that is big enough to fail is big enough to get back up again. Why? Not because of success, but because of the source.

Too often we think that faith depends on success. If you have faith, it will be reflected in whether we win or lose, fail or succeed. Take a look at these verses:

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (and ensures that I won’t fail).

Philippians 4:13 (additional, incorrect words added by me)


Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people (and God will ensure you don’t fail).

Colossians 3:23 (again, that’s not what it says)

Those phrases in parentheses are what a lot of people (myself included) read into those verses. The promise, we think, is that if we have enough faith, if we rely upon God, if we do it with enough passion and perseverance, then the outcome is guaranteed success.

But the truth is our faith is not founded on a positive prospect, but on the one who has called us, the one who has empowered us, and the one who holds us all together. In the book of Philippians Paul tackles this directly. He lists all these things that were great in his life: his education, his heritage, his relationships. Then he talks about the bad stuff that’s happened to him: loneliness, bankruptcy, failure. But he puts all of that stuff on one side of the faith ledger and this on the other:

Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

Philippians 3:8

It takes more faith to fail than it does to succeed. And it takes even greater faith to get back up again. The only way that’s possible is if our faith is grounded in Jesus Christ. The only way that’s possible is if our focus is knowing him.

We step out in faith every time because we are obedient to him. Whether we fail or succeed, it’s all about obedience. And when we get back up, dust ourselves off, and follow him again, it’s all because of him.

Faith to Fail, part 1

FailThis is part 1 of a 3 part series on the topic of faith and failure. It was originally published on Glocal blog over at

We give Peter a hard time, don’t we? But I’m not sure he deserves it. We paint him as hot-headed (John 18:10), prone to putting his foot in his mouth (Matthew 16:22-23), who denies his best friend Jesus (Luke 22:61-62). But he was also the chief disciple (Matthew 16:18-19), founding Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:5), and leader of the first church (Acts 2:14). Not such a bad resume.

One story in particular is used to give Peter a bad name. In Matthew 14 we see the disciples heading out across the lake while Jesus stayed behind to pray. In the middle of the night, while the sea was tossing back and forth, Jesus came walking on the water. Peter calls out to him, “If that’s you Jesus, call me out and I’ll walk to you.” Jesus says okay and out walks Peter. But he sees the waves and he gets afraid and he starts to sink. Jesus grabs him by the hand and pulls him back in the boat and says:

“You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?”

Matthew 14:31

The sermon I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again is that if your faith is little, then you’ll see the waves and waver, your knees will get shaky and your feet will get wet, then fear will overtake your faith. O ye of little faith!

But I think there’s a better sermon in this verse. Let me show you by telling you a little bit of my story.

When my wife and I were newlyweds and just graduated from college, we made a big step of faith and moved to Salt Lake City, UT to help out at a new church plant. We had friends and mentors there to encourage and support us. We had a new church that was exciting and dynamic. But we didn’t have jobs. And we didn’t have a lot of money. So, against our better judgment and everyone else’s advice, we racked up some debt. We didn’t use the plastic to buy fancy dinners or big screen TVs. No, we used our plastic to pay for things like rent and electric and groveries. But at the end of four years in Salt Lake City we had racked up over $21,000 in credit card debt. Not quite the way we wanted to start our marriage.

During that same time I took over as youth pastor at the church. I inherited a group of 7 teenagers. Through much effort and a lot of hard work, four years later we had grown the group to…8. Not the rousing success I had dreamed of while taking church ministry classes in my college days.

So, we eventually left Utah and move back to Oklahoma, dejected and debt-ridden. We had stepped out in faith believing that God would take care of us. And we ended up falling flat on our faces. It was like I was pulled through the gravel. I felt like Peter being admonished by Jesus. “O ye of little faith!”

But several months later, after I sorted through my negative ministry experience, I saw things differently. Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. But Jesus explains little faith elsewhere, too:

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

Matthew 17:20

Mustard seeds are about 1 mm in diameter. You don’t have to be an herbalist to know that’s little. So mountain moving faith is little, but I think faith to fail may be a little bit bigger.

Let me explain it this way. Let’s say you have a business opportunity that’s virtually guaranteed. You have an airtight business model, several financial backers, and a list of sure prospects just waiting for you to open your door. How much faith would it take to start that business?

Now let’s say that your business opportunity is a little less secure. Your friends give you a 50/50 chance of surviving, and other people in the field are trying to talk you out of it because several of them have gone bankrupt. Heck, let’s say that you’re guaranteed to fail. Now, how much faith would it take to start that business?

We think of Peter’s faith as little, but it was bigger than eleven other men in the boat. He had enough faith to take a step out onto the water. Every fiber of his mental being would lead him to believe that a man can’t walk on water. His physics-bound body was not created to tread on top of waves. He was guaranteed to fail.

But of all the people who have ever existed, we only have record of two men walking on water. One is Jesus, of course. But the other is Peter. He did something that no one else not named the Son of God did. He may have fallen flat and gotten wet, but at least he stepped out of the boat.

When we hear testimonies of people stepping out in faith it’s usually success stories. There are plenty of stories about the opposite, but we don’t give them a microphone. That’s probably because failures aren’t good motivators, sure. But when we hoop and holler over every success, are we giving a false sense of security?

Because of our preoccupation with success, I’m afraid we’ve put it in people’s minds that all they need to do is step out in faith and everything’s going to be shiny happy! We’ve elevated the expectation and given them a false faith. If we’re honest, the chances of failure are as great as success in a lot of what we do for God. But our obedience is not determined by the prospects of success. Our obedience is based on his word. We step out of faith – move from the boat to the water – because he tells us to.

And if we fail? Well, in the end it only matters that we were obedient. Obedience is the true measure of faith for the life lived following hard after Jesus. And it takes more faith to fail than it does to succeed.

Whatever Happened to Happiness?

“And then we go to the store and he asks for another toy,” she said, slicing another pizza fresh from the oven. We were at our friends’ house, all our kids playing – running through bedrooms, bathrooms, up and down stairs – five bodies in frenzied motion. My friend had just been talking about the large collection of Thomas the Train toys her youngest has.

“Of course I buy him one, even if it costs an extra $20.”

My first thought was, Isn’t that spoiling the kids? Then I realized I do the same thing. My son has more Legos than I ever dreamed of having myself. My daughter always asks for another stuffed animal when we’re out, and my wife – God bless her – gives in about half the time.

Aren’t we spoiling our kids? Will this madness ever end?!!!

I bet you’re thinking this is a post about how we shouldn’t give in to our kids’ every request for more and more toys, the latest techno fad, or an extra scoop of ice cream. Sorry to burst your bubble – it ain’t. It’s about being a parent – sometimes good parents and sometimes evil parents. But mostly this post is about being happy.

And with that I want you to think about this.

Whatever happened to happiness? Somewhere along the line it became a dirty word. In our zeal to preach contentment and denounce a “keeping up with the Joneses” materialism, we shoved happiness down the tubes. Worse than that, we made it part of the seven deadly sins. We assign it a seat next to the other works of the flesh.

But it isn’t. It’s far from that. Happiness is a holy endeavor. Let me explain.

Remember that conversation I talked about a few paragraphs ago? The one with the mother admitting she gives in to her kids wants and desires? Yeah, that one. Well, my first response was to shame her for spoiling her kids. Then I remembered a talk I had with my dad a couple years ago.

My dad and I love the St Louis Cardinals. Always have, always will. One summer he decided to splurge on tickets for us – right behind home plate. A dream come true! It was the best time at a game I’d ever had. Halfway through the game I looked up at the nosebleed section. You see, back in 1983 my parents took us to Busch Stadium to see the defending World Series champs. But we were so far up that I think we were closer to the moon than the Wizard of Ozzie.

“Remember when we came here twenty years ago?” I asked my dad.

“Yeah, those seats were terrible. I should have paid the extra money and gotten better seats.”

“That’s okay, dad,” I reassured him. “I know we didn’t have a lot of money back then. And I was content just to be here.”

“That’s not the point,” he replied. “I’ve realized that making moments and memories is more important than saving a few bucks.”

That conversation did something to me. I realized that buying a $20 toy or a $200 ticket won’t spoil my kids. We’re supposed to make memories, and if we do that well then…money well spent. And if the kid is happy, then job well done for this parent.

Now, I can already read your mind. “Chris, you’re crazy! You’re suggesting we spoil our kids! How does that teach them to be content and take care of their money???”

I’m not talking about teaching your kids to be content and take care of their money. You teach kids that by teaching them about…being content and taking care of their money. I’m talking about making your kids happy. And I know God wants us to be happy. Here…look!

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-11 (emphasis added)

Hey! We’re evil, right? But we still want our kids to be happy. How much more does our father in heaven want us to be happy.

16 “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:16-17 (emphasis added)

Everything that is good in your life – that makes you happy – comes from God. Why? Because he wants us to be happy. And if God wants us to be happy, why are we so intent on making God out to be someone who wants us to be sad.

There’s this idea that happiness and joy are two different things. Happiness comes from the root word for “happen,” meaning we’re only happy when good things happen to us. But joy is different. It’s rooted in a desire to just know God and accept anything that comes our way. But to suggest that God only wants us to have joy and not happiness would suggest that God doesn’t want good things to happen to us. And I don’t believe that.

Now, you may point to a passage in Philippians where Paul talks about being content. He is joyful no matter what – whether he has a lot of cash on hand or his wallet’s a little light. But Paul realizes that God is in control either way – and maybe especially when things are going good.

There’s one more verse I want you to look at. I’m just going to put the first part of it here.

3 “Blessed are the…”

Matthew 5:3

Told you I was only going to put part of it here. Jesus goes on in this chapter to list some people who don’t really sound blessed – poor, hungry, thirsty, persecuted. But Jesus calls them blessed. In fact, that word for “blessed” is the Greek word makarios. Anyone wanna guess another translation of that word? Go ahead, it’s not hard. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the title of this post.


That’s right, makarios can also mean happy! Jesus says, “You guys should be so happy!” He doesn’t mean that they should delude themselves into thinking that they’re happy even when bad things are “happening” to them. He’s saying they should be happy because good things are happening to them. “You have mercy and righteousness and grace! You have the Kingdom of God! You’re going to inherit the earth, not heaven or some other planet – this earth and all the stuff in it. Surprise! It’s your lucky day!”

In that same sermon – the Sermon on the Mount – is where he talks about God the Father giving us good gifts. All we have to do is ask. And when some pastors, preachers, ministers, and teachers dare to suggest that Jesus wasn’t kidding, I see pundits and bloggers come out of the woodwork to say, “Yeah, but!”

Well, I’m just crazy enough to believe Jesus. I’m just crazy enough to think he wants me to be happy. So, I’m going to go ahead and keep believing that and guess what? That makes me happy.