Doubt vs. Certainty

Doubt and Certainty. I’ve been chewing on these words for a few weeks and something I read online yesterday brought them both into sharper focus for me. I have been thinking about the moments in my life where I was the most certain about certain things of God and how those moments didn’t serve me very well. Moments like when I was absolutely certain that there was no hell. Or moments when I was absolutely certain that there was. Moments when I was absolutely certain that no one would be in hell as well as moments when I was certain I knew exactly who will one day be there.  Additionally, there have been moments when I was absolutely certain that God blesses and celebrates gay men and women and moments when I was absoulely certain that God abhorred such unions.

These are just a few examples of things I have believed passionately at one time or another. They are very different from each other but the one thing they all have in common is the tenacity and certainty with which I held those beliefs. It felt good to be certain – to have a side on which I could plant my flag among a community of like minded people who were equally certain that we were right and they were wrong.

I have also had moments – even long seasons – of doubt. In recent months and years I have doubted that God loves me. I have doubted that God is for me. I have doubted that God would want anything to do with me because of choices I had made and habits in which I have gleefully wallowed. I have doubted that my life can be salvaged or that I could be forgiven. I’ve doubted that the church could be a place of healing and restoration, or that she would even welcome me were I to return.

Doubt, coupled with shame, have been my most constant companions for much of the past few years.

I share all that to say this: I think one of the things God is trying to teach me, and the thing I have been chewing on these last few weeks, is that neither one of these places – certainty and doubt – are healthy places for me.  Certainty tends to give root to pride, and doubt tends to give root to hopelessness.   These are not the best God has for me, or for you.  God hasn’t saved me so that I can be certain about certain theological concepts nor so that I might never doubt again. God knows I am human and designed me that way. God knows my weaknesses far better than I and isn’t expecting that I never doubt again or that I never get puffed up with certainty again. But just because he understands me and knows my heart is prone to wander into either of these two extremes doesn’t mean he desires for me to stay there.

I’m grateful that there have been people in my life who encourage and exhort me towards humilty when I am certain and trust when I am doubting. It is humilty and trust, rather than certainty and doubt, which are the virtues that serve me best in my Christian journey. This is what I am learning.

When people ask me today what my thoughts are about the existence of hell or the posture God has towards gay people, my answer is this: I don’t know. I leave those things to God who I am learning to trust is loving, just, good and true. My job, as I see it, is to love people and embrace them where they are, as they are, for who they are. Rather than try to make them fit my mold I pray that God would see fit to move in their lives in whatever way God sees fit today and that they, and I, be humble enough and open enough to receive it. I am learning that this way works for me far better than the other ways I have tried. I’m amazed to see how the Holy Spirit is capable of enlightening others to the way of Jesus when I just get out of the way and choose to be a friend.

And as for my doubts, I still struggle but I am learning to trust more. The more I sit in circles with recovering addicts like myself and hear people share their own struggles as well as joys around God and life, or how they too doubt God’s love for them at times or have witnessed God’s hand in something as simple as a cup of coffee or a hug, the more I realize that God is with me in ways I have not previously seen or understood. I’m learning to trust that he is with me and that he is someone I can once more turn my will and life over to one day at a time.

Humility and Trust. These are the spiritual realms in which I strive to live but don’t always succeed. When I do get side-tracked and slip into the far more human realms of Certainty and Doubt, I welcome feedback from fellow pilgrims who speak truth into my life and remind me that there is something better than both of those states. They aren’t trying to shame me for feeling that way. Rather, they are loving me by wanting more for me – for reminding me that I, too, want more for me. And so does God. In this way, these friends and reminders are, to steal a phrase from Barbara Brown Taylor, like altars in this world. I don’t always see them or heed them, but when I do, it’s a moment worthy of giving thanks, as I trust this hastily written post serves to do.

Thank you to all of you who have been, and continue to be, altars in this world.



I’m currently reading Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell’s beautiful book, The Divine Dance.  Back in 2005 when I was a 2nd year student at Lee University studying theology I asked my professor if there were books written that didn’t just explain what Trinity is but unpack why and how understanding God as triune will change your life.   His answer was that books like that need to be written.    The Divine Dance is that book!


A point that Rohr and Morrell make early on in the book is that “God is relationship itself.”   God is not just some being who happens to be in a relationship.   Rather, if we want to put a name to that stuff (my professor taught me that stuff is a great theological word) that makes up God, that stuff’s name would be Relationship.   And therefore to be like God – to be holy – is to be moving towards relationship at all cost.

When I relate this to my addiction, and any addiction, really, I can name it as sin because it isolates me.   It cuts me out of relationship.   Rohr writes,

Sin is the state of being closed down, shut off, blocked and thus resisting the eternal flow that we’re meant to be….Sin is always a refusal of mutuality and a closing down into separateness.

The antidote to isolation is a willingness to be vulnerable.    Vulnerability is something I tend to avoid because I fear that if someone really saw me – the real me – they would leave me.    Or if they didn’t leave they would merely tolerate me (which is often worse than abandonment!).     Hear what Rohr and Morrell say about vulnerablity.  It’s beautiful…

Did you ever imagine that what we call ‘vulnerability’ might just be the key to ongoing growth?  In my experience, healthily vulnerable people use every occasion to expand, change, and grow. Yet it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other – becuase it would mean others could sometimes acutally wound you (from vulnus, ‘wound’).  But only if we choose to take this risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility: the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you.

But it is a felt risk every time

Every time.

Rohr goes on to remind us that God is vulnerable in God’s self, and towards all of us.  The cross is the ultimate example of this, of course.   And we are invited to be vulnerable every time Jesus reaches out towards us and asks that all important question:

Do you want to be healed?

If I am to answer ‘yes’ to that question (and I have to answer it every day), it will require me to be vulnerable.  It will require me admitting that I don’t have it all together and that I need someone to save me.   Shutting down when things get hard with my girlfriend or raising my children or hiding in shame from God until I feel more worthy will not bring healing but more sickness.    Salvation comes in relationship, in my willingess to be seen and received as I am, not as I should be.

I’m grateful tonight for a program of recovery that offers tools for those of us who have long made it a habit to isolate and separate.   We admitted we were powerless is the beginning of the First Step and the first step towards vulnerablity, or, as I think Rohr would call it, holiness.

Lord, make us holy, as you are holy.


coming out of hiding

The fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich said, “Our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder him in loving us.”

My life depends on this being true.   The past nearly three years have been for me a predominately dark time with only intermittent rays of light.   I have fallen often and grievously, putting to test Julian’s theory in the most grandiose ways.   I have scars to prove it.

Nearly three years ago to the day I relapsed.    A nightmare I thought I left behind, and from which I thought I was healed, rushed back into my life like a hurricane.   There are many reasons why but the root of them all is a slow, steady, progressive disconnect from God.   As a pastor and recovery minister I got consumed with doing the work and forgot how to be with God and others.   I let my guard down.   I got lazy.   And without a regular support group for myself (as opposed to one I was always leading) to belong to I had no idea just how unprepared I was for whatever storms might come.

I still play that night over and over in my head when I reached for my phone and searched for things I hadn’t looked for in years.  I play it back slowly at times, thinking that maybe this time I’ll make the right decision and I’ll wake up as though it were all a bad dream.

But that never happens.  We addicts love our non-reality though, don’t we?   What quickly became my reality was a downward spiral from a momentary relapse to full on addiction.   Looking back, I see how I could have stopped the slide had I reached out to someone for help.   But my shame over what I had done, coupled with the responsibility I felt towards the church I pastored and the recovery ministry I helped launch paralyzed me.   So I slithered away into the night.

This is the first time I’ve written about this.  If you’ve followed this blog in the past and gleaned something from my writing about recovery, I want to take this moment to apologize to you.   And not just to you, but countless others.  I let down a lot of people.  My family, my church, my friends and a community that trusted me.   And while I don’t expect this post to fix any of that, and personal amends are yet to be made, I needed to bring all of this to the light because it’s the only way I can continue to recover.

I also needed to share that this week marks my 10th week sober.

I’ve been embarrassed by that for too long.   In my head I made up stories that people probably expect I should be much farther along than I am.  And to be honest, I wanted them to think that.  I am good at putting on the imposter persona which looks sober and clean for my audience.    But the truth is the past couple years have been full of starts and stops, gains and losses.   I’ve fallen grievously and hurt myself and others.  There were many long dark days where I was convinced that death was my best option.

I’m so grateful that in those darkest moments God showed up with skin on and reminded me that I was not forgotten or alone.   These men and women showed me love when I didn’t love myself.   From a couple I knew only through Facebook opening their home to me when I was homeless.   A friend I hadn’t seen in years gave me a van when I was carless.   A 12 step group opened their arms to me and encouraged me to keep coming back.   A recovery preacher in Knoxville who I kept listening to online.  A girlfriend who stood beside me through the peaks and valleys.    These and others gave me hope when I felt hopeless.

Today I am not ashamed that I am 10 weeks sober but grateful that I am alive to share that I am on the road to recovery.   It’s important to me to come out of hiding and share where I am with you.   I’m tired of living behind a mask.   I’m an addict in recovery and I’m making progress.   And today I am choosing to embrace the truth that God loves me completely for who I am today and not some future version of me with more sobriety.

While my falls have been many and grievous, I will not wallow in them.  I reject the lie of the enemy which has whispered to me over the last few years, “You’ve squandered all of your Father’s blessings because you relapsed, divorced, or washed out of ministry.”    Rather, I choose to believe that my Father has long been standing at the door watching for me and comes running towards me with every start.  Because of who he is, I believe the best is yet to come.  20141204-Snyder-GodSeesYou

Thank you for taking a moment to read this.

Grace and peace,





This story about Peter changed my life, and could yours

I want you to remember a time you were publicly humiliated by someone.  Maybe somebody insulted you in front of others, or pointed out what you were doing wrong in a condescending manner.  Maybe they made fun of you for wearing something that didn’t match (all my fellow color-blind people, unite!), or maybe it was a teacher who embarrassed you in front of the class.

Got it?  Is your blood starting to boil as you picture that person?  Ok. Take a deep breath.  Lay that aside for a moment.  We will come back to it.

My biblical doppelganger is Peter, the perfectly flawed disciple of Jesus.   One of my favorite pastors, Mark Beebe, has been doing a teaching series on Peter during our Thursday night recovery services.  He reminds us that throughout the gospels, Peter’s shortcomings are not scrubbed out.  We see him have some great moments, such as when he answered rightly Jesus’ question, “Who do you think I am?” and we see him have some bloopers, such as 7 verses later where Jesus rebuked him, calling him Satan (Matthew 16).   We get to watch Peter full of faith walk on water and then moments later get overwhelmed and drop like a rock.  We read about him declaring he’d never leave his Master’s side only to disown Him not once, not twice, but three times that same night.

Peter is every one of us who vowed to go to Africa for the sake of the gospel during the 11am altar call only to remember an hour later how much we love Olive Garden.

I love Peter, and I suspect you do as well, because we can identify so easily with him.   But there’s a story about Peter that isn’t found in the gospels and is little known. It’s my favorite one.   I’d like to share it with you.

It begins in Galatians, a letter written by Paul, a Jewish religious leader turned Jesus freak who is credited with taking the message of Jesus to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world.   During this time period, Christians were still getting used to the radical idea that Jesus broke down all the barriers between people, setting aside the purity regulations faithful Jews had observed for centuries (like abstaining from unclean food or not eating with Gentiles).  Paul was fighting an uphill battle trying to convince Jews who had converted to Christianity that it was perfectly acceptable to eat with Gentiles.  Heck, they could even host a pork BBQ if they so desired.

Enter Peter.  In Galatians 2, Paul writes that he found Peter in Antioch.   Before Peter’s Jewish friends arrived on the scene, Peter was known to eat with Gentiles.  But when these guys from Jerusalem showed up, Peter drew back. He didn’t want to get in trouble with his Jewish friends.   Paul writes that he “opposed Peter in public because he was clearly wrong…the other Jewish believers also started acting like cowards along with Peter” (Gal. 2:11-14).

Paul publicly humiliated Peter, calling him a coward in front of all his friends.   I imagine Peter felt a lot like you and I feel when the same thing happens to us.  Galatians was written around 40 A.D., a decade after Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven.   Ten years later Peter still had moments where he wasn’t at the top of his game.   Once again, Peter is just like us.

But the story isn’t over.

Nearly 2 decades after being embarrassed in Antioch, Peter would write his own letters to churches which would be added to our New Testament.  In his second letter, the aging disciple writes one sentence that convinces me the gospel is true, that the Holy Spirit is at work, and God isn’t done with any of us yet.   He writes,

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with wisdom that God gave him (2 Peter 3:15).

Isn’t that astounding?!  Do you see how Peter writes so affectionately about a man who called him a coward in front of all his friends?   Do you catch how he publicly praises the one who publicly humiliated him?    Over the years Peter made spiritual progress, and along his journey he chose humility over bitterness, reconciliation over retaliation.   Peter continued to grow, to change, to be conformed into the image of Jesus.

This insight into Peter’s life, a man who lived 2000 years ago and whom I only know through letters, is enough to convince me that a life pursuing Jesus is worth it, if for nothing else than to achieve the sort of serene disposition the aged Peter has for Paul when none of us, who are just like Peter, would fault him if he had held a grudge to the grave.

Now, recall the image of the person who made your blood boil a moment ago.   See them?  It’s one thing for us to take comfort in knowing someone like Peter, a disciple of Jesus, is just like us when he falls on his face.  But if he’s just like us in our low moments, can we believe together that we can be just like him in his best moments?   Can we believe for a moment that the gospel is true, that the Holy Spirit is at work in you and I, and that God isn’t done with any of us?  Then can we dare to imagine that one day – maybe not today, this month or even this year – but one day our hearts might be so changed that we would write affectionately about the person we can’t stomach today?

If the words of a dead man from two millennia ago can inspire us to imagine Jesus isn’t done with any of us yet, imagine what might happen if the world saw living examples of Peter today.   After all, he’s just like us.   Or even better, maybe we are just like him.

By God’s grace, may it be so.



One Whom Jesus Loved

This excerpt from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child is worth reading over and over and over until it gets inside us.  The context of this piece is Manning describing a retreat where he spent 5 days in John’s gospel and was struck by how the disciple came to know himself as the one whom Jesus loved.   Manning wonders what would happen if we became absorbed by that fact and allowed it to be our identity – one whom Jesus loved.   How would that change the way we approach Him, particularly when we fail?

Peter, the denier of Jesus, a failure as a friend in the hour of crisis, a coward in his soul before the servant-girl in the courtyard, jumped into the water almost naked once John told him Jesus was on shore.  “At these words ‘It is the Lord,’ Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water” (John 21:7).  John notes that the boat was about a hundred yards offshore.

These biblical characters, however clean or tawdry their personal histories may have been, are not paralyzed by the past in their present response to Jesus.  Tossing aside self-consciousness they ran, clung, jumped, and raced to Him.  Peter denied Him and deserted Him, but he was not afraid of Him.

Suppose for a moment that in a flash of insight you discovered that all your motives for ministry were essentially egocentric, or suppose that last night you got drunk and committed adultery, or suppose that you failed to respond to a cry for help and the person committed suicide.  What would you do?

Would guilt, self-condemnation, and self-hatred consume you, or would you jump into the water and swim a hundred yards at breakneck speed toward Jesus?  Haunted by feelings of unworthiness, would you allow the darkness to overcome you or would you let Jesus be who He is – a Savior of boundless compassion and infinite patience, a Lover who keeps no score of our wrongs?


Why God’s promise to give you a way out of temptation isn’t working

There are some promises in the Bible which under certain conditions do not work.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he shares how Israel’s past mistakes have been written down as a warning to us, so that we “might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6).   He goes on to pen one of the most frequently quoted promises in all of scripture:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it (10:13).

I have often hated that verse.

I hated it because as an addict it never worked.   He won’t let me tempted beyond my strength?  I proved time and time again that I had no strength.  I was powerless over my addiction.  When it called, I answered.

I prayed time and time again that God show me a way out next time.  I prayed time and time again that God give me strength to withstand the temptation to use the next time around.  Each and every time I got the same result.

I began to think that this verse, so often quoted and fitting so nicely on refrigerator magnets was a cruel joke.

But Paul writes something immediately after this famous verse which was a game changer for me.  Like the decoder ring I used to find in Cracker Jack boxes, this is the key that unlocks everything else.  He writes,

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols (10:14).

The idea that we can resist temptation is sandwiched between these two ideas, that we might not desire evil and that we would not worship other gods. But when we worship something else, or when our heart’s desire is something apart from God, we aren’t in a good place to activate the promise of 1 Cor 10:13.

When Paul says that when we are tempted a way out will be provided, he is assuming that the main desire of our heart is God.  Temptation is the process of being enticed by something less than that main desire of our heart.   When Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden they were being enticed by something other than God, who was their all in all.  Being tempted is about being lured off a path I am committed to be on, whether that path is life, or in the case of addiction, death.

So, when I’m acting out in my addiction the main desire of my heart is not God.  Rather, my compulsion is my god, and when in that state, anything trying to draw me away from acting out in my addiction could be called a temptation.  When I am active in my addiction I am not being tempted to use my drug of choice, I’m being called to worship my god. 

When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to go to church.

When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to pray.

When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to surrender.

Thank God he never answered my prayer to provide a way out of my temptations!   Those temptations were actually wooings of the Spirit, seeking to tempt me away from the god I worshiped  – my compulsion.

If you have been praying 1 Cor. 10:13 till you are blue in the face and frustrated that you keep falling short, perhaps it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself and admit that temptation isn’t your issue,  worshiping an idol is.

It’s not until we admit that we have an idol in our heart that we love more than God that that idol begins to lose it’s power over us.  Naming the gods we love to worship, admitting that we are powerless over them, is the first step towards the sort of worship for which we were created.

And then, when we are absorbed by the one true God, with our hearts delighting in him, having turned our life and our will over to his care, then and only then will we find the power and truth in a promise like 1 Cor. 10:13.  We will find that there always is a way provided for us to walk in the Spirit rather than our flesh.  We will find that God is doing for us what we previously could not do for ourselves.   We will be making the connection.  We will be home.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.   What if we put that on our refrigerator magnets for a season?

Learning to experience a risen Christ in recovery

Standing on a London street corner, G.K. Chesterton was approached by a newspaper reporter. “Sir, I understand that you recently became a Christian. May I ask you one question?”

“Certainly,” replied Chesterton.

“If the risen Christ suddenly appeared at this very moment and stood behind you, what would you do?”

Chesterton looked the reporter squarely in the eye and said, “He is.”

(quoted from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child) 

Have you ever had a day where you felt like throwing it all away?  Where efforts made in recovery felt senseless or without reward?  Recently I received some news that punched me in the gut, making me wonder if I would ever get ahead of the wreckage of my past.   Sometimes it feels like I take one step forward only to be knocked two steps back.

I called a friend who is also in recovery and we took a walk.  I shared my frustration over my circumstances and my anxiety over the future and admitted that in moments like these I wonder, why bother?  Why continue choosing recovery when nothing else seems to be going my way?

I don’t know about you, but far too often I lack Chesterton’s faith and fail to imagine Christ’s present risenness, choosing to believe that I am all alone in my circumstances.  I confess that many days, weeks and even months have gone by where I live as a practical atheist, moving through life as though it were a series of unrelated events, each of which I must endure or survive, alone.   I forget that Christ is behind me.

My friend reminded me on our walk that continuing to make good choices can and will help me face the reality of my circumstances in more healthy ways.   Seeking God in the midst of the mess is hard but necessary work that can deliver us from despair and give rise to hope.   She’s right.   Remembering that Christ is behind me – and before and above and beside  me – is the sort of discipline I need as I am being put back together.

Later that day I took time to pray and focus my gaze on the ever-present risen Christ.  The painful circumstance didn’t go away.  But the resentment I felt towards those involved began to recede.  Anger gave way to empathy.   Thoughts of retribution moved to mercy.  And the shame I so often wear like a blanket began to unravel at the seams.

Learning to meditate on the present risenness of Christ is a discipline I’m working to cultivate.   And that is exactly what it is – a discipline.   Retraining our minds to see the risen Christ always behind, before and beside us requires the same sort of discipline required for getting to the gym every day or eating right.  But the benefits will change a life for the better.   Brennan Manning describes how the life-giving Spirit shows up on our bad days:

[Spirit shows up] in our willingness to stand fast, our refusal to run away and escape into self-destructive behavior.  Resurrection power enables us to engage in the savage confrontation with untamed emotions, to accept the pain, receive it, take it on board, however acute it may be.  And in the process we discover that we are not alone, that we can stand fast in the awareness of present risenness and so become fuller, deeper, richer disciples.  We know ourselves to be more than we previously imagined. In the process we not only endure but are forced to expand the boundaries of who we think we really are (Abba’s Child, 105).

To know ourselves to be more than we previously imagined.  When I imagine myself resorting to my old ways of coping with reality the outcome is always the same – temporary relief or forgetfulness followed by guilt and shame, never resulting in hope, freedom, serenity or life.  But when I imagine myself resting in the resurrected presence of Christ, the outcomes possible are limitless, brimming with promise and vitality.

Today I am encouraged by the prospect of knowing myself to be more than I previously imagined.  I’m excited to know that whatever I face today I don’t face alone.   I’m grateful that the trials I experience today are producing in me character that will equip me for tomorrow.

What are some ways you can be mindful of Christ’s risenness, his being behind, before, and beside you when circumstances seem to be against you?