the price of faith?

Category : barbarian, faith, fear

Some days I wake up and think, “man I’m really making a difference for the kingdom!”  I look around at my life and think about the financial sacrifices I’ve made.  I think about the hard choices I’ve had to make in my life to align it more with God’s path than my own path.  I think about the career choices I’ve made and volunteer opportunities I’ve done.

Frankly I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot.

But then I turn around and read an article about the 32-year old Christian pastor being executed in Iran because he denounced Islam.  And I realize, yeah, my sacrifices aren’t very much.  And I wonder, if the price of my faith was death and torture, would I still believe?

friends of the world

Category : God, barbarian, bible, different, fear

Have you ever experienced a life changing moment?  One of those instances in time where you know that you’ll never be the same again.  You realize that you’re at the threshold of something that is going to make you look at the world a whole new way.

I had one of those recently.

And it came from a commercial.

Or more specifically, a commercial for a drug that “increases the length and thickness of your eyelashes.”  According to the commercial there is an epidemic of women who have eye lashes that are too short and thin.  Now as a guy I am shocked that this issue hasn’t been addressed earlier.  Because as a guy, I can guarantee that, as men, we just sit around and talk about the length of women’s eye lashes.  Usually the conversation goes, “boy I’d really like to ask Sally out.  She’s pretty hot.  It’s too bad that her eyelashes are so stumpy.”

No!  In all my years I have never heard a single guy ever mention anything about eyelashes.

Yet we are being told that we need thicker eyelashes.  We are being told that if we don’t take this drug we will miss out on the fullness of life.  Really?!

This isn’t even something Seinfeld at its height could have imagined.  Even that cast wasn’t this superficial.

I’ve never really understood what it means to be a “friend of the world” in the Biblical sense.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the world.  Could the world really be that bad if it brings me such wonderful things as donuts and video games?

But now I am starting to see just why we are warned against being “friends of the world.”  It’s because the world doesn’t have our best interests in mind.  It wants to make us unsure of ourselves.  It wants to steal our identities.  It wants to make us hurt – so that it can sell us the fix.

Women will flock to this drug that increases eye lash length.  (That’s a sentence I never dreamed I would type.)  Of course this isn’t without cost.  The world doesn’t give you something for free.  The side effects for this drug include things like permanent discoloration of your eyes.  It can also give you a “red eye” look, which means you’ll go around looking like you haven’t slept in weeks.

When we chase after the world we are told we are not good enough.  That we need to improve before the world will be our friend.  How different is God?!  He chased after us!  He left his Kingdom to come rescue us.  Why?  Because we are good enough.  We are loved enough.  We are wanted enough.

It’s no wonder the Bible warns us against being friends of the world.  The world is kind of creepy and mean.

don’t manage your risk, embrace it

Category : barbarian, bible, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, taking action

While most of us were busy celebrating the holidays, the world was in full motion.  In a matter of about 24 hours we learned that a terrorist tried to kill 270 civilians by blowing up a plane.  And while all of this was going on, the Pope was attacked during a Christmas service.

Fortunately both the passengers on the plane and the Pope escaped any significant injury (although a Vatican diplomat broke their hip and a passenger suffered 3rd degree burns wrestling the terrorist).

Reading headlines like this makes it easy to want to stick your fingers in your ears and hum Christmas carols really loudly. (I personally recommend Here Come Santa Claus.)  But is that what we should be doing?

One of the things that struck me in the story about the Pope was a simple sentence that read: “Security analysts have frequently warned the pope is too exposed in his public appearances.”

Now Security Analysts are paid to keep people safe.  Their job is to limit risk.  To create “risk management scenarios.”  But is that the job of a Christian?  To stay safe?  To manage risk?  When I look at the Bible I see people who constantly put themselves in danger because that was where God was headed.  They lived a life of faith so intensely that all that mattered was following God.

The Pope is a high profile figure.  He’s part celebrity.  Part politician.  Part religious figure.  Which means he represents a very “appealing” target to people who may have psychological issues (as was the case with this woman).

I’ve never been the Pope.  And not being Catholic, it’s very unlikely I’ll ever be the Pope.  I’ve also never had anyone care enough about what I do to want to hurt me.  I’m not famous, rich, or a religious figurehead.  So I can’t really understand what all comes with that.  I also don’t really understand what it’s like to have my life constantly in danger.  The most dangerous thing I do every day is scrape the ice off of my car.

But being the Pope is different.

He experiences all of those things.  He has to make daily decisions that may cost him his life.  And there are many people just like him, making those same kinds of decisions.  But far too many people make choices based on risk management scenarios.

There is something seriously wrong with our churches when we put risk management above living out a life of faith.  I applaud the Pope for being so accessible and putting his life on the line.  I applaud the Christian who walks into danger, because that is where she sees God calling.

As we head into 2010 I want you to think about one question: Are you living a “safe” life?  Or are you living the radical, revolutionary life that God calls us to?

the waste of faith

Category : God, barbarian, bible, miracles, trust

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Every year my church does a crazy Christmas show.  This is a full out, laser-snow-machine-giant-screen-booming-bass show.  It even has 50 foot tall battle-hardened angels.  In fact, it’s one of the best produced (and written) show’s I’ve ever seen.

But almost every year I hear someone complain that it’s “over the top” or “too expensive”.  Some even wonder “why go to all that trouble?”

I understand their points.  Part of me even agrees with those thoughts.   I don’t know how much money is spent on free coffee, free hot chocolate, free cookies but my guess is over the course of two weeks it probably runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Shouldn’t we be better stewards of God’s things?  Doesn’t God want us to cut out the waste?

Frankly, no.

Because what we are doing isn’t wasteful.  It draws somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people every year.  That’s a lot of people to connect with God.  Many of them are making that connection for the first time.

All of this has been running through my mind as I’ve been reading the “minor prophets” in the Old Testament.  As I’ve been reading I’ve noticed (for the first time) just how many crazy, outlandish, unnecessary things God calls prophets to do.

He calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  He had Jonah swallowed by a big fish (although that was more because Jonah wasn’t cooperating than anything else).  He asked Ezekiel to lay on his side for more than a year.

I am sure that some people, even today, would say that those things were a bit ridiculous.  “Come on!  A whale?  Can we really afford something as big as a whale?  What about something more the size of a large tuna?  Or maybe a mackerel?”

That was a problem even with Jesus.  Some people saw his ministry as too extravagant.  Too relaxed.  And so he was labeled a glutton and a drunkard.

You know why these aren’t unnecessary?  Because God is willing to do anything, short of sin, to bring us into a relationship with him.  He asked these prophets to do these crazy things so that their actions would cut through the cultural noise of their days.  Sometimes the way to get someone’s attention is to go bigger, louder, and badder.  And sometimes

Do you really think God has suddenly stopped trying to connect with us in any way possible?

Now I’m obviously not advocating waste.  But I am advocating crazy generosity.  I just hope God doesn’t ask me to shave my head.

God asks us to do hard things

Category : God, barbarian, bible, choice, different, taking action

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Never think that God won’t ask you to do something hard.

In fact, that seems to be God’s favorite thing to do.  He never seems to say, “You know what, if you go on vacation to this exclusive resort, that will really get the people believing in me!”

Instead he says things like “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek”.  Or if you are like Hosea, he tells you to marry a prostitute.

Ouch.

A while back I wrote that God never gives us more than we can handle.  It’s one of the most popular posts on R3.  People have a hard time understanding why a “loving God” gives us hard things to do.  We don’t really want a God; we want a super powerful Santa Claus.  But taking an easy path in life isn’t always the best way to go about living.  I think God knows this.  He knows that sometimes the most growth happens when we have to struggle.  He knows that some people will be held in bondage unless we act.  He knows that evil won’t stop, just because we don’t want to get involved.

Sometimes the only way to advance the Kingdom is to push.

The more I struggle to understand what it means to be a parent, the more I realize just what God goes through.  When I look at my own parents I realize they held me to high expectations, not because they were being “controlling” or “demanding” but because they knew I had more potential in me then even I realized.

We don’t really want a God; we want a super powerful Santa Claus.

It’s the same with God.  He knows how much we can grow.  How much we can handle.  And sometimes to bring out our full potential, we need to work really hard.

There are things more important to God than giving us an easy life.

This is clearly seen in the Bible.  God has always been more interested in our relationship with him than in our sacrifices (for Jews) or following a bunch of rules (for Christians).  But we can’t seem to get that through our heads.  We keep trying “harder” to please God, when that misses the whole point.

When God gives us something hard to do (like telling Hosea to marry a prostitute) we change not just ourselves, but the world.

You can’t find a story in the Bible where something amazing wasn’t experienced when hard tasks were done.  You can’t find a friend who has been obedient to God, who hasn’t grown.  You can’t find lives changed when we, as Christians, do the hard thing.

What else can you make that claim about?

So when God comes to you and says, “I have something hard for you to do.”  Don’t fight him.  Instead, say, “how can I do it?”  And then go and do it.

christian humor: billboards

Category : barbarian, different, humor

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I love to laugh.  I especially love to laugh when Christians are being funny.  All too often our “humor” is pretty lame.  It’s nice to know that not all Christians are Ned Flanders clones.  While some people may consider this a clever marketing campaign, I consider it good Christian humor.  Way to go LifeChurch.tv.

lifechurch-billboard

politics and faith

Category : God, Jeremiah, barbarian, different, faith, hope, living a life of faith, trust

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Election day.  There may not be any other day that so many Americans get worked up and angry over.  Besides the obvious Sunday of football.  While some people say that elections are becoming more “vicious” and “partisan”, I think they’ve always been that way.  Last time I checked there haven’t been any pistol duels in Washington recently.

Politics can be exciting.  A lot can ride on an election.  We’ve seen this in the last few elections.  About a third of the country despised the direction of the USA under George Bush.  Now about a third of the country despises the direction of the USA under Obama.  We seem to be evenly balanced in our dislike of political trends.

So if there is so much tension, anger and animosity, why do we get so worked up about politics?

For some elections and politics represent the hope of change.  That’s what Obama campaigned on.  Although he wasn’t the first, he might have been the best at it.  For others it represents the continuation of the status quo. Their party gets to stay in power.  They get to call the shots.

Ultimately it boils down to one fact: elections can have profound consequences.

So what does this mean for someone who believes in God?  How do politics and faith mesh?  Especially when you are living out a life of faith?  I wish I had an answer for you.  I don’t know how you balance the two.  I don’t know if people of faith should be involved in politics.  I don’t know if they should stay out of politics.  There are certainly disadvantages to both choices.  And there are compelling reasons to do either.

But what I do know is God warns us to be careful of believing too much in human-only solutions.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 17: 5)

For many believers I think politics has taken on a primary importance because at their core, they don’t fully trust that God is in charge.  They aren’t quite on board with believing that God really is acting.  I recognize that paints with a broad brush.  I know many Christians who are fully on board with God’s plans.  But I also know many people who don’t know what it means to submit to God and trust him.  And there are some days I can’t fault them for that.  When we hear news of disaster, rape, murder, or other horrific things, it’s easy to wonder exactly how all this fits into some kind of “plan.”

God, though, is very clear on this.  We need to trust him in all circumstances.  Not just when things are running smoothly.  That’s the point of the book of Job.  Job needed to trust God, not because Job’s life was good, but because God is, well, God.

God hammers this point home to Jeremiah too.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17: 7-8)

Jeremiah’s mission was to deliver a message of destruction and punishment to his country.  That’s not easy sailing.  But God reminds him – don’t place your trust in the human solution.  Place your trust in my solution.

Whatever your politics, if you are a believer than it is your responsibility to put your trust in God, not in elections.  Elections can be important.  God may even want you to be involved.  But never at the expense of your first allegiance: to the Kingdom.

football as an idol

Category : barbarian, choice, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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I love football.  That’s pretty obvious if you’ve spent any time rummaging around R3 or ever glance at my twitter feed.  It’s in pretty much every conversation I have from August to February.  Yet I’ve noticed a problem – I can be obsessed.  I love football so much that a loss by the Steelers can derail my entire week.  I can be in a bad mood just because of one bad play.

And you know what?  I hate it.  I hate that football has that much impact on me.  It’s just a game.  But in my heart I know I often treat it as more than just a game.  Sometimes I tell myself, “don’t get so worked up”  However I can’t escape the fact that if football doesn’t have much of an impact on me, it’s not really worth watching, is it?

So I am caught in this love-hate relationship with the greatest game ever devised.

Here’s the thing though, the closer I get to God, the more I dislike these things in my life.  I don’t want anything to impact my mood except God.  I want him to be the center of who I am, not whether the Steelers win or lose.

Over the last year or two I’ve made great progress with having football as an idol.  I’ve learned to let a lot of frustration go and just enjoy the game for what it is – a game.  But at the same time, in the moment I have yet to fully control that emotion.  Now I don’t believe that God cares if I get excited about football or not.  But I do believe he cares about the way I project my relationship with him.  I can hardly call myself a Christian if I go off on someone because the Steelers lose.  That’s not exactly Christ-like behavior.

To me, football is an idol.  And that’s something I need to wrestle with each week.

Idols are dangerous.  They seep into our lives.  Stealing much of the joy in life with promises of a “better” or more “exciting” life.  Those are lies though because they seem so believable.  But they are lies none the less.  Only God provides true freedom and true  life.  Everything else is just a shallow imitation.

Even football.

the church leading the way

Category : God, barbarian, different, faith, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

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This week I asked, “what if the church led the way?”  In that post I wondered what the world would look like if the church took an active role leading the way in science, literature, art, action, helping people, etc…

A lot of time the church is criticized for not doing it’s part.  And lets face it, that criticism is often well deserved.  But there are many, many, moments where the church lives in a very kingdom-style.

I experienced one of those moments this week.  As a volunteer on the “Benevolence” committee at my local church, I am responsible for looking for ways to help people who need financial assistance.  And as you can imagine, with today’s economy those numbers are overwhelming.

Most of the time I only hear the bad side of the story.  I only hear the heartbreak as someone loses a house or a job.  But every so often I get to hear the “happy ending.”  Such was the case with an individual I’ve been talking to on and off for a few months.  He, through a series of events, ran up a $3,000+ credit card debt.  He, like everyone I see through the Benevolence program just didn’t have the resources to pay it off.

A lot of times that type of story ends in disaster.  But this one was different.  He had developed a relationship with another Christian.  Someone who didn’t even go to my church.  As they talked, the other Christian said he felt God calling him to pay the bill.  All $3000 of it!

I am always moved when God gets involved in our lives.  This was a moment where the church led the way.  Where the Kingdom advanced because one man was faithful and obedient.  When we live our lives under God’s guidance, amazing things happen.

Just something light to end the week on.

what if…the church led the way?

1

Category : barbarian, different, radical, revolutionary, taking action, worship

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What do spiders, silk and missionaries have in common?

For one missionary living in Madagascar in the late 1800’s they meant inventing a device to extract spider-silk from spiders, without hurting them.  While this invention didn’t go very far (it’s hard to get enough silk to work with) it has spurred modern inventors, who have now created a 2-pound rug out of spider-silk.

One of the things that I think the church (in general) has moved away from is leading society in the areas of science, art, and thinking.  Some of the greatest minds in history have been from the church.  For many years the church was the repository for knowledge.  It held the scholars, the educated, and the literate.  Much to our shame, the church used it’s knowledge to secure it’s position in society.  Which in turn held back literacy and education.

However, the church also did remarkable things.

What if the church led the way today?  What if we focused on giving back to society instead of changing it?  What if the church led scientific research?  What if the church was tops among inventors?  What if the church was the most innovative organization on the planet?  What if the church made a tangible, day-to-day, impact on everyone’s life?  What if the church didn’t just improve the spiritual well being, but also physical well being?

What if…

What if the church led the way?

Can you imagine the possibilities?