something to be thankful for

Category : 2 Corinthians, Paul, bible

This is going to be my first thanksgiving with my own family meaning my wife and step-daughter.  Because of that we’ve been talking a lot about family traditions, what holiday’s should look like, etc…  In the midst of all of those conversations I find myself thinking a lot about “what do I have to be thankful for.”

And let me tell you, God has been over-the-top generous with us this year.  After being unemployed for a year, I was able to buy a house, pay for a wedding, buy an engagement ring, and pay for a honeymoon.  And replenish all of my savings.

How you ask?

I have no idea.  The only thing I can say is that it’s a true “fish and loaves” miracle.  For me it’s easy to be thankful this year.  But for a lot of us, 2010 has been a brutal year.  Unemployment.  Foreclosure.  Medical issues.  Family problems.  The list can go on.

So how in the middle of a year like that can you be thankful?

Paul’s answer was, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18)

Paul recognized that we need to focus on something other than our immediate, Earth-bound troubles.  And that “something” was God.

Now before you think, “well that’s easy for Paul to say.”  Listen to what he had said only moments before, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.  Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-12)

Paul was someone who knew a thing or two about being beaten, hated, punished, shipwrecked, jailed, and flogged.  But he was also someone who knew a thing or two about God’s redeeming power, and the good news of the cross.

So this thanksgiving, as you’re looking at what you have to be thankful for, don’t forget that we have a loving God, who wants to be involved in your life.  And that’s the best thing we could possibly ask for.

God is not passive

Category : God, bible, faith

So far we’ve looked at several examples of people who thought it would be best to be passive.  In contrast, the Bible clearly paints God as an active God.  Even in rest, he’s making a conscious decision to “take a break.”  You never see God sitting back and saying, “I’m just going to see what happens.”  Instead he does everything imaginable to try and engage with us and change our actions.  Here’s just a quick list of what he did: he gave us a perfect garden to live, gave Adam a perfect wife, provided Moses with miracles to free the Israelites, provided them bread and meat in the desert, brought floods, protected them from enemies, sent Israel into captivity, In the end God decided to take the most proactive step of all: dying on the cross.

The one person in history who didn’t need to go the extra mile was Jesus.  And yet, he picked up his cross and died for us.  God never sat back to let us figure out a way to save ourselves.  He was always working to save us.

God is not passive.  And if we should model our behavior on Jesus, then why should we ever be passive?

As we conclude this 5 part series no passivity, take some time to think about your own life.  Where are you letting passivity creep in?  Is it your prayer life?  Are you just not praying like you used to?  Or is it something else?  Maybe you’ve stopped reading the bible or going to church?  Maybe you’re just feeling so overwhelmed that you have started to say, “I’ll get to it next week.”

My friends, there may not be a next week.  Not because something terrible is going to happen.  But because it’s more likely something good will happen – your life will continue on, always having commitments, friends, and TV shows to watch.

Sometimes the biggest threat to being active, is just being content with the life we have.  I urge you to not make that mistake.

This is part five in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.

Repentance and Passivity (the Prodigal Son)

Category : bible, faith

Most of us have heard the story of the Prodigal Son.  We know that there are two brothers.  One brother is a major screw-up.  He’s lazy.  A partier.  A womanizer.  And he even wants his father dead.  (At that time if you asked for your inheritance while his father’s still alive, you were sending the not so subtle message of, “I want you dead!”)  He makes most politicians look good.  The other brother is upright.  He does what he’s supposed to.  Always finishes his chores.  And is loyal to his father.  He’s the ______ of brothers.

The younger brother (the screw-up) goes off and does a lot of bad things.  He gets himself in trouble and realizes he has a choice: starve to death or go back to the father he said he wanted dead.  In the end he decides it’s better to go back to his father and ask forgiveness.

When he returns home, his Dad, instead of being upset, comes running towards him.  Not only does the father forgive the son, he actually throws him a massive party.  The older brother, who has never disobeyed his father, becomes furious.  “You never gave me anything!” he yells at his father.

To me one of the strongest points of the story comes as the older brother and father are standing outside the feast to honor his brother’s return.   His father tries to reason with him, but the brother wants none of it.  We’re left wondering what the brother chooses to do.

Each brother has a choice: to return with the father or not.  The screw-up chooses to return.  He shows repentance and seeks forgiveness.  And a party is thrown in celebration.  The older brother chooses to pout.  He sits back and does nothing.  He watches from the outside as the family and friends celebrate the return of his lost brother.

We are often given a choice.  Do we choose the hard thing and ask for forgiveness?  Or do we sit back and do nothing other than pout?

This is part three in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.

Adam throws Eve under the bus

Category : Genesis, faith

Sadly, throughout much of history, Eve has been blamed for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and causing Adam & Eve to be kicked out of the garden.  This has been used to justify a lot of things against women.  Certainly Eve bears responsibility for eating the fruit.  She knew just as well as Adam that God had forbidden it.

But who’s fault was the “fall” really?

Look closer at Genesis 3: 6-12. Adam was standing right next to Eve.  At any point he could have stepped in and said, “you know Serpent, that’s not really what God said.”  He could have even said, “Eve, I have a bad feeling about this.  Let’s ask God next time we see him.”

Almost anything Adam would have done would have been better than what he did.  Which was nothing.

Adam stood by and watched.  He gave up all the authority God had given him and simply sat by.

Adam knew all along what was at stake.  But it was easier for him to sit by.  Oh, and for the record, at Adam’s first chance to tell the truth to God, he threw Eve under the bus.  Would things have turned out differently if Adam had said, “God, this is my fault, I didn’t do anything.  I knew better.  I’m sorry.  Forgive me.”  Who know’s.  But Adam chose to be passive the whole time – and for that, he was kicked out of the Garden.

This is part two in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here. Photo provided by flickr user Barbra L. Hanson.

the dangers of passivity – Adam & Eve

Category : Genesis, faith

We live in a world where there’s a lot of choices.  Who should I marry?  Is this job right for me? Can I really eat a dozen donuts? In the midst of all of that, we can easily wonder what we should do.  We can become frozen by our fears, our doubts, and even the excitement of what’s to come.  Frankly we can wish for a “simpler time” or “clear choices.”

But would that really help?

Adam & Eve had it all.  They had an awesome place to live.  Probably some sweet beach front property.  They loved their jobs (naming animals and taking care of Eden).  And Eve was literally created for Adam.  (There was no need to rely on e-harmony to figure out that one).  Life was pretty good.

But they still found themselves struggling with a choice: to eat the fruit or not.  Instead of actively choosing to follow God, they passively stood by and listened to the serpent.  “Of course God didn’t really mean that you’d die” he said.  They knew better.  But it was easier (and more exciting) to go along with the serpent than take an active stand.  And by giving up their choice for passivity – they made the worst possible decision.  And thus, were kicked out of the garden.

Nothing good ever happens when we passively sit in God’s Kingdom.

This is part one in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.  Photo provided by flickr user Barbra L. Hanson.

small steps to changing history

Category : Luke, bible, living a life of faith, taking action

One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.  That was what Neil Armstrong said as he made history being the first person to step foot onto the moon.  As famous as that line was, did Armstrong really understand what he was doing?  Did he really know how his one step onto the moon would change the course of science, history, and culture?

I often find myself thinking about questions like.  It makes me think about my own life, and my own choices.  What small steps can I take today that may change the course of history?  Okay.  Maybe not world history.  But the history of my life.  Maybe even the history of those around me.

Sometimes the simplest action can transform everything.

That’s what I was thinking of as I read the introduction to Luke’s gospel.  In it he addresses the whole work to a man named Theophilus.  Now historians aren’t exactly sure who Theophilus was.  Some of the leading ideas are that he was a non-believer, but open to the idea of Jesus being God.  Another idea is that Theophilus was a wealthy believer who just wanted to better understand what living out a life of faith looked like.  Something I can relate to.  (The understanding, not the money!)  There are other theories, but those are the most likely.

I have to think that Theophilus had no idea what he was putting into motion.  He had no idea that millions of people would still read the book he had (most likely) funded.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes the littlest actions can have the most impact.  We never know when taking a few minutes to read a story to a kid can change their life.  Or instead of cutting someone off in traffic, we let them merge.  Yet time and again we see major life change happening with a simple moment.

God has a strange way of taking the small and turning it into the extraordinary.

photo provided by NASA

being defriended by God

Category : God, bible, failure, faith, living a life of faith

Have you ever been betrayed by a friend?  Someone you liked, someone you trusted, maybe even someone you loved.  When we experience that kind of betrayal, it’s one of the worst experiences we can have in life.  Not as bad as your team not winning the Superbowl.  But still pretty painful.

That’s why God’s love of us is so revolutionary.  We’ve all betrayed God before.  Most of us on a daily basis.  We’ve put him through exactly that kind of pain.  Yet God is always there when we need him.  Despite everything, God still stands by us.

This isn’t just one small part of who God is.  It’s one of the major themes that runs through the entire Bible.  We see this in the lives of Moses and David.  Jesus illustrates it with stories like the prodigal son.  It’s even the story of Peter’s life.

There are very few people in the Bible who are more outspoken in support of Jesus than Peter.  Peter was always the guy jumping to show just how much he was willing to sacrifice for God.  He put his life on the line more than once.  Peter wasn’t just talk, he was action too.  (You don’t get to walk on water by sitting on the shore.)

But in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need, Peter failed him.  First because he couldn’t stay awake and keep Jesus company.  Second, by denying Jesus three separate times.

Imagine if one of your closest friends couldn’t visit you in the hospital as you were dying.  Or never called to see how you were after losing your job.  You’d be understandably angry and maybe even a little resentful.  We’d start treating our friend differently.  We might not even call them our friend.

Yet God is the God of redemption.  And Peter’s story doesn’t end with being defriended.  It ends with Jesus restoring Peter as a friend.  In fact, one of the first things God does is send a message to Peter that Jesus is alive, and he shouldn’t worry anymore.

Think about that.  Peter had done nothing.  Yet God sought him out.

This is why God is such a radical God.  This is why the Bible is such a revolutionary book.  Despite our failures and betrayals, God does the unexpected, and keeps on loving us.

photo provided by flickr user saragoldsmith

living a life of ups and downs

1

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, living a life of faith

Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) often seems like two different people.  In one moment he’s lopping off an ear.  In the next he’s running away.  At one instance he’s walking on water.  In another he’s terrified of drowning.

It seems as if Peter just isn’t very consistent.

Which means he’s just like you and me.

All of this comes into play just before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus and a few disciples head out to pray.  Jesus knows what’s about to happen.  He knows he’s going to die in a way very few of us can imagine.  All he wants to do is pray, and have his friends stay with him.  But despite Peter’s best efforts, Peter keeps falling asleep.

Jesus is understandably upset with Peter, and says something profound: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That line sums up our existence pretty nicely.  We have all experienced moments where we want to do the right thing.  But when that moment comes, something happens.  We end up not following through.  We become afraid.  Pride takes over.  Greed overwhelms us.  Whatever it is, we end up caving.

Peter, despite his best intent, ended up running away.

But as I said, you and I aren’t that different from Peter.  What sets Peter apart is the fact Peter said the things you and I think.  If Jesus told us, “you will deny me.”  We might think “yeah right!  No way Jesus!”  But Peter didn’t seem to have much of a filter between thought and talking – so he actually said it.

It’s a shame that Peter is sometimes portrayed as a coward.  In many ways he never stood a chance.  He always wanted to do the right thing, but his flesh was weak.

I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, other than maybe we need to give ourselves some more slack when we screw up.  And I think be a little more like Peter.  Because no matter how publicly he messed up, he always came back to give it another try.

photo provided by flickr user pittsinger

knowing faith or living faith?

Category : bible, faith, feeding my brain, living a life of faith, taking action

I’m one of those people that loves to find that perfect balance between price and performance.  There is something about getting the “most” out of something that I just find fun.  I am always thinking about the best way to drive to save the most gas.  Whenever I build / buy a new computer I look for that sweet spot of price and performance.  I even do this when I buy sports tickets.  I know, it’s a bit weird.  But I also love it.

Sometimes this becomes a bit of an obsession.  For instance, in the last couple of weeks I’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out which surge protector to buy for my TV.  Most people just go to the store and buy the cheapest (or most expensive one).  Not me.  I need to figure out exactly how many outlets I need.  Then I have to find which stores have the best deals.  And in the case of these power strips, I wanted to find out what the level of “ideal” protection was needed.  To further complicate this choice there are a new line of power strips that cut down on “phantom power” use.  (Phantom Power is the power a device draws when turned “off.”)

No matter how hard I looked, I kept running into a problem: no one would explain what the energy ratings really meant.  Exactly what is a joule?  How many do I need as protection?

I’ve realized that I know nothing about electricity.  I don’t know how it works.  I can’t explain basic concepts like Watts and Amps.  I have no idea how it’s made or how it powers my devices.  Yet I also know I believe in electricity.  Even though I can’t see it, I know it’s there.

Frankly that sounds a lot like faith.

Most Christians couldn’t hope to explain their beliefs.  They don’t know how it works.  They can’t explain basic concepts like the Original Sin or Atonement.  And while this is a bad thing (you really should know why you believe what you believe), people still believe.

So why is this lack of knowledge the lynchpin of so many arguments against Christians?

A lack of knowledge doesn’t mean something isn’t true.  As I’ve said, I haven’t got a clue of how electricity powers my laptop.  But I know that it works.  I know that somehow it comes from the outside into my computer.  Just because I can’t explain how doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Should I know more about electricity?  Absolutely.  But there is also only so much time in life to do things.  Sometimes it’s more important to live out a belief than to know about a belief.

When God says things like, “well done my good and faithful servant” he isn’t congratulating people for passing Theology 405.  He’s congratulating them for living out a life of faith.

Knowledge is important.  But not as important as living.

the most shocking thing in the bible

Category : God, Mark, bible, different, miracles

The Bible says many shocking things.  Some of it is so shocking that people say it must be made up (i.e., Moses parting the sea.)   Others are so shocking because they go against how we see the world (Jesus didn’t really mean that we should love our enemies, right?)

But I have a different view.

I think the most shocking thing in the Bible is a story about Jesus returning to his hometown.  This is where Jesus grew up.  Yet people didn’t recognize him.  Jesus’ response was simple, yet profound: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

Jesus is saying that it’s only around those that know us the best, are we least recognized.  The Bible then goes on to say, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6: 4-6)

Read that last sentence again.  “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d consider healing sick people pretty much a miracle!  Imagine going into a doctors’ office after a horrible car accident.  You found yourself suddenly paralyzed and your entire life was about to change.  Then the doctor walks in, looks at you, touches your leg and suddenly you can walk again.

When the media shows up to talk about how he made you walk, the doctor simply shrugs and says, “Well I didn’t do anything really.  At least nothing important.”

What?!  Are you kidding me?!

But that’s what Jesus just said.  He couldn’t do any miracles, except miraculously healing people!

We have such a world-bound, outcome-based view of things that this sentence is difficult to understand.  It’s shocking.  It rocks our world.

God is more concerned about changing people’s hearts than doing something that defies explanation.  He defines miracles not by amazing feats, but by the simple change in our hearts.

If you ask me, that’s pretty shocking.