i don’t want to go through the motions

Category : Jesus, Matthew, fear, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

……….

I admit it.  The last few weeks have been a bit up and down on R3.  I haven’t been able to post the usual three times a week.  It seems events have been conspiring against me.  At first I was sick.  Then I realized it was NaNoWriMo.  (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you scoring at home.)  And after writing about 20,000 words of a book, I had to put virtually everything on hold because, my friends, I have some good news to share.  I was offered a job on Monday and accepted.

That means after all this time I will finally be employed.

If you’ve been following R3 for any length of time you know that this last year has been hard.  I’ve been unemployed since the first of the year.  And that takes a toll on you.  More than just financially though. You can easily begin to doubt yourself.  And at times I really questioned where I was going.  Unemployment can also shake your faith.  There were times when I really wondered if I was really following God or just going off on my own tangents.  It also can impact your relationships.  It’s hard to be loving and engaged when you wonder where you will get enough money to pay the bills.  It’s also hard to stay active with your friends when they want to go do something that costs money and you don’t have the funds for that.

Looking back on the year I realize just how much I have learned and just how much I’ve grown.  I don’t even feel like the same person anymore.  And none of that would have been possible without trusting God and quitting my job.  The ironic thing is, that despite all the pain this year has caused, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best years I’ve ever had.

You see I don’t want to go through the motions.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder, “did I really give everything?”  I don’t want to just be that guy who punches the clock and that’s it.  I want my life to make a difference.  I want to advance the Kingdom in powerful ways, or at least in whatever ways I can.

Jesus once told the parable of the talents.  In it he described three men who were each given talents (which was a sum of money equivalent to about 3 months of wages).  Two of the men doubled what they had been given.  But the last man didn’t do anything with his talent.  He was afraid and therefore didn’t act.

When the master of the three men returned he demanded an account of how they had used the money.  The first two were rewarded greatly, and the last man was punished.  Not because he lost the money.  But because he didn’t do anything with his talent!

That terrifies me.

I would rather lead a life of adventure, and chaos, and unpredictability than live a safe, comfortable life that wasn’t about pursuing God.  I knew that I had a choice to make about my job.  Stay there and be comfortable, but do nothing with my “talent.”  Or be willing to trust God so much that I would walk into a completely unpredictable world.

I chose to act.

I don’t always choose to act.  And I’m not saying everyone should quit their job.  But I don’t want to look back some day and think, “why did I waste my talent?”

This is why the Matthew West song “The Motions” has become a theme song of sorts.

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?”

That’s how I want to live.  How about you?  Are you going through the motions?

blessed are those who mourn

Category : Jesus, Matthew, bible, faith, hope

……….

In the history of R3 I don’t think I’ve ever gone close to two weeks without a “serious” post.  In fact it’s rare that I miss a single post during the week.  But such was the case for the last two weeks.  What I thought was going to keep me down for a few days turned out to floor me for nearly a week.

When I get sick I usually go in a very set pattern, and it lasts just about 3 days.  This time it was different.  In fact, even though it’s been 15 days since I first got sick, I’m still not feeling 100%.  This is near record territory for those of you scoring at home.  But in the course of all that something interesting happened – I was reminded how grateful I am for my health.  Most days I don’t give my health a second thought.  And I never really think about how lucky I am not to have any health issues.  But these last two weeks have given me many opportunities to do just that.

Sometimes the Bible says some pretty crazy things.  For instance, Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  I’m not even sure I really understand what that means.  At least not fully.  To be honest I don’t even want to think about that!  I don’t want to be blessed because I’m mourning.  I want to be blessed because I have a nice car and a nice house.  I want to be blessed because my life is easy!

Yet after being sick I can see how mourning leads to being blessed.

When we suffer we face a choice.  We can become bitter and angry, and that suffering holds us in place.  How many movie villains have their origin in just such a scenario?  How many of us have our identities rooted in pain?  Our other choice is to not let suffering control us.  It’s a chance to embrace mourning as part of a natural healing process.  It’s an opportunity to try and learn something from mourning.  Even if all we learn is that we need more of God.

Because I went through a time of “suffering” I now more fully appreciate what it means to be healthy.  Without losing my health, I never would have really understand what it meant to be healthy in the first place.  Sure, in the big scheme of things this wasn’t catastrophic.  But you don’t always need to have a catastrophe to learn from God.

I think this type of knowledge was what Jesus was driving at.  God’s Kingdom is often upside-down.   And this is just one more example.  Jesus knew that.  He knew that suffering can lead to appreciation.  Which is why he tells us such a counter-intuitive thing.  Maybe we should all embrace our mourning instead of trying to run from it.  Maybe it’s true, “blessed are those who mourn. “

using loopholes to avoid trouble

Category : Jesus, Matthew, choice, different, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

……….

Have you ever noticed how everything in the world is geared towards justifying our choices, our actions, and our decisions?  We live in a world obsessed with finding excuses, reasons, and explanations for why our behavior should be the exception.

“Well officer, I didn’t mean to speed, I just had to go to the bathroom.”
“I’d love to play with you tonight son, but I had a hard day at work.”
“Everyone else is doing it…”

We are always looking for loopholes.  Always looking for an out.

I find it interesting that God is just the opposite.

God closed the loopholes.  No, scratch that.  He doesn’t “close” loopholes, he slams them shut, nails the door, and moves a giant bolder in front of it.  God does not accept “well I just wasn’t paying attention.”  God does not accept excuses and justifications.

Is there anything more revolution, more counter-cultural than that?

We often have this impression of Jesus as a “nice guy” who was in complete contrast to the “big, mean” God of the Old Testament.  But that’s not the case.  Both treated sin in a very-counter cultural way.  And yes, it was counter-cultural 2,000 years ago.   Much to the shock of the Jews of the day, Jesus ramps up the intensity of the 10 commandments:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5: 17-20)

If that’s not enough.  Consider what Jesus said about murder.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Wow.

I don’t know about you, but that’s terrifying.  Hating someone is the same as murdering them?  God doesn’t see shades of gray?  You can be condemned to Hell for that?!  Talk about closing the loopholes!

Why was Jesus like this?

I believe it’s because God knows how we operate.  He knows that we’re always looking for loopholes.  He knows that if there was any wiggle room we’d be asking, “how close to the line can I get?”

If God has closed the loopholes should we still be seeking to justify all of our actions?

That’s what Israel did.  In fact that was their entire history.  They were constantly trying to get as close to the line as they could without crossing.  And you know where that led?  To hardened hearts.  To spiritual death.  And to a life lived not in faith, but a life lived in mindless obedience to minute laws.  A place where there was no room left for God.

There is good news though.  While you and I can never live up to Jesus’ standards.  That doesn’t matter.  Jesus took the punishment that we deserved.  He suffered where we should be suffering.  He paid the price that was ours to bear.  That’s what’s so amazing about God.  At the very moment he was closing all loopholes, he was opening up the front door.  No more sneaking around, we could boldly and confidently walk in the front door.  As Michael W. Smith says in Come To The Cross, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, everyone can come to the cross.”

If God has closed the loopholes should we still be seeking to justify all of our actions?  Should we still be trying to avoid trouble by wiggling our way free?  Or should we boldly move forward and simply ask God to forgive us?  Jesus may have closed the loopholes, but by doing so he made it easier to enter Heaven, not harder.

I ask you this week – where are the loopholes in your life?  And what are you going to do to close them?

A life of faith is guided by God, not controlled by loopholes.

forgiveness

Category : Jesus, Matthew, bible, different, hope, living a life of faith

……….

Think for a moment about someone you really dislike.  Maybe you even hate them.  Maybe they’ve hurt you.  Maybe they’ve lied to you.  Or maybe you just find them annoying.  Are you thinking about them?  Good.  Now what are the first three things that pop into your head?  Is one of them forgiveness?  Because it should be.

Forgiveness.  That’s not something I like to even think about, let alone do.  I have a very hard time backing down from arguments.  I like to be right, and I’m not afraid to fight to be seen as “right.”  So when someone does something that harms me, I have a hard time letting go.

R3 focuses a lot on the idea of living out your faith.  And for a Christian, forgiveness is a major part of that life.  But I really struggle with it.  Intellectually I understand what’s going on.  I even get why God would ask us to do it.  But it’s just hard to pull the trigger on forgiveness.  It’s so much easier to hate.

That’s why I find Jesus’ interaction with Peter so interesting.  And scary.

Jesus radically raises the bar for forgiveness.  When Peter asks him how many times he should forgive someone, Peter suggests seven would be a good number.  Now in Jewish culture you were obligated to forgive someone 3 times.  So Peter was going above and beyond what was expected.  Plus, he chose the number 7 knowing full well that in Jewish culture it  implied a “completeness”.  Peter was trying to say he would forgive someone a lot, more than maybe anyone else.  He thought he was doing something good, going way above and beyond his duty as a Jew.

But this still wasn’t what Jesus was looking for.  Jesus isn’t interested in us “trying harder.”  He’s interested in our lives radically changing.  So he told Peter, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Jesus wanted to make the point that there isn’t some magical number you hit and then you’re “good.”  Instead, it’s about changing your heart and aligning yourself with God’s forgiving nature.

In the end it was Peter who ultimately needed to receive that forgiveness which Jesus spoke of.  As Jesus was lead away by authorities, Peter had a chance to show support, all he had to do was simply say he knew Jesus.  Yet three times Peter denied even knowing him.  Peter abandoned Jesus when Jesus needed a friend the most.  Yet Jesus still forgave Peter, and actually went on to use him to build the Jerusalem church.

I may never figure out how to forgive people 77 times.  I may only be able to do it once.  But I am grateful that God is forgiving.  Because I know  I certainly need it.  And maybe, right now, the best thing I can do is simply struggle with the idea of forgiveness.  Maybe it’s that struggle in applying Jesus’ teachings to our lives that ultimately builds our faith.  And in turn, allows us to forgive 77 times.

does god answer prayers

Category : Matthew, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, trust

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks,  the door will be open.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Sometimes I think that just because I ask God for something I should get it.  And when I don’t, I’m shocked.  “How can God not answer my prayers?!” I cry out.  But as I read the story of Israel, I have to wonder, is that what’s really happening?

I’ve talked about how the trip to the Promised Land was only an 11 day trek.  Yet it took the Israelites 40 years to make it.  Why?  Not because God hadn’t answered their prayers of salvation (he had, even though they constantly doubted).  But because God knew that if the Israelites went directly to the Promised Land they would have been destroyed by what they found.

As it turns out it was the struggle of the journey that allowed them to become strong enough to enter the Promised Land.  It was their suffering which strengthened them.  It was their growing relationship with God that allowed them to have the faith necessary.  And once they were ready, or perhaps I should say, only when they were ready, did God open that door.

If Israel had avoided the disaster of 40 years in the wilderness, they would have experienced complete destruction at the hands of their enemies.  We are so quick to assume that God has abandoned us, when we don’t know all the facts.

The band, Since October has a song called disaster that really drives this home:

thank God for disaster
disaster and tears
thank God for my reasons
my reasons to fear
every time that I’ve lost it all and death is calling me
i understand this is what saved my life again

It is hard for me to remember that God often says “yes”, but it takes time for that “yes” to become a reality.  Living in a world of “lose 6 pounds in 6 days” and Instant Ramen Noodles it is hard for me to be patient.  I don’t like to wait for things.  But as the Israelites learned, sometimes waiting is the only way to get where you want to go.

Perhaps I should spend less time whining to God, and more time trusting and believing in God.  Perhaps I should spend less time avoiding problems, and more time thanking God for disaster.

christian’s biggest challenge

Category : Matthew, different, faith

 

You’re sailing along (metaphorically of course), with everything going along just fine.  But there comes a day when every Christian must confront a major problem.  A challenge that threatens to ruin everything they’ve worked for.  So what is that challenge?  Is it sin?  Is it falling away?  Is it doubt?  Is it wishing you weren’t metaphorically sailing, but actually sailing?

All of those are very real issues.  But I don’t think they are the biggest danger.  I think the biggest danger happens when we lose sight of God’s grace.  The danger is that we become so self-assured that everything is “right” with God, that we no longer know the answer to the question, “what’s the point?“.

So we begin to believe that our behavior is the point, not God’s Kingdom.

If you look at who Jesus got most annoyed with it was never the prostitutes or sinners, it was always the religious elite.  Why?  I think it’s because they were so self-assured that all they could do was be condescending toward other people.  Isn’t that human nature after all?  That once we reach the top all we can do is look down on people?

They lost track of the point.

The only thing that keeps us from becoming religion snobs is focusing on God’s grace.  The instant we move into snob territory our relationships go from “relational” to “transactional”.  We focus on the “what can I get from helping you?” model, instead of “how can I love on you?” model.

That’s a dangerous place to be, because we think we’re doing the right things.  But we aren’t.  Let me illustrate this with an example.  Sometimes when people go out into the cold they start to drink alcohol, thinking it will keep them warm.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact the alcohol thins the blood, increases circulation close to the skin and releases heat even faster.  Despite being completely assured that they are warmer, alcohol victims end up freezing to death. 

That’s how self-assurance works.  It convinces us that we are exactly where God wants us, when in fact we couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is perhaps nothing worse than thinking you are safe when in fact you are headed for destruction.  Christians must always take time to take a measure of where they are and where their lives are headed.  When we don’t, we run the risk of running aground. 

what? me worry?

Category : Matthew, choice, faith, fear, hope, trust

 

What does a sick 3 year old, being kicked off a flight, and losing a power strip have in common?  They are all things that in my two weeks of travel I never expected, and yet they were my biggest challenges. 

Before I left I expected computer problems, stress, or even getting lost in some strange city to be my biggest issues.  But all of those went smoothly.  In fact even driving around Chicago was easy.  Every single thing I worried about worked out perfectly.  What I found was a sudden supply of unexpected problems!  Things that had never even crossed my mind.

Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  I’m not sure that point has ever been driven home more than these last few weeks. 

I look back at all the stress and feel a little embarrassed by it.  All of the anxiety I felt was pointless.  I didn’t accomplish anything through worry.  I didn’t solve any problems by being nervous.  It was just a big waste of my time and energy. 

I’d like to say I am cured of my need to worry.  But I know that’s not really true.  I think I can honestly say, however, that things are just a bit more in perspective.  And isn’t that what the Christian faith is all about?  Each day making a little more progress towards God. 

the need for God

Category : God, Jesus, Matthew, failure, faith, hope

  

A significant part of Jesus’ ministry was spent in an area known as Galilee.  This was a region filled mostly with non-Jews, which meant much of traditional Judaism was diluted.  This posed a problem because Jews looked at Jewish culture as “what God demanded,” anything less was seen as inferior. 

In many ways this made Galilee one of the “worst” parts of Israel.   

My study Bible suggests it’s this brokenness that made Jesus spend so much time here.  Which, to be honest, is something I hadn’t considered.  But it makes sense.  Jesus even said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9: 12). 

It seems to me that the closer we get to disaster the more likely we are to take notice of our lives.  And it’s usually here that we begin to realize there’s something wrong.  I’m sure it wasn’t any different 2,000 years ago. 

As Galilee struggled economically, and was looked down upon by the rest of Israel, is it any wonder why they responded so strongly to Jesus?  The people of Galilee saw the problems in their world, and recognized that Jesus was presenting another option.  He was giving them a new way to live.  He was offering hope. 

Sometimes in our prosperity we view God as a convenience (or inconvenience, I suppose, depending on your point of view).  We think of him as something that we can add onto our lives.  But that’s not how we were designed to live.  God is supposed to be an integral part of our lives.

Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason fame, describes Jesus role in our life as a cure not a band-aid.  Jesus doesn’t “cover up” sin, he takes it from us.  This makes all the difference.  We can’t just choose to apply God to our lives when it’s convenient or when we’re feeling sick. 

That’s what the people of Galilee recognized.  They saw their need for God and responded.  I think it’s entirely possible that if Jesus had started in the most prosperous parts of Israel, with the healthiest people, they never would have recognized their own need for God.  They would have fooled themselves into believing they needed a band-aid instead of a cure.

Sometimes the best thing for us can be a difficult life.  Sometimes it pays to be Galilee.

christianity and economics

Category : God, Matthew, different, hope, trust

   

Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean it’s not hard to watch the economy fall apart.  It doesn’t mean there isn’t any stress involved with facing hard times.  What it does mean is that we need to remember to trust God.  He knows what we need, and frankly it’s not really another video game or a new car – what we really need is a stronger relationship with him. 

I don’t always find that comforting as I enter into a crisis.  But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Lord – I pray for all the people who are being affected by this financial crisis.  The people who are losing their homes, their jobs, and their financial security.  Encourage them.  Help them to lean into you, so that they can overcome any obstacle.  And for the rest of us, help us to remain generous, to stay bold, and to act in love.  Amen.

prayer thursday: courage

2

Category : God, Matthew, fear, prayer thursday, taking action

  

Being a Christian means stepping into dangerous situations.  We’re called to care for the sick and needy, and to comfort the hurting.  Unfortunately this doesn’t always come with a hall pass.  Which means, sometimes Christians end up facing hardship, persecution, and death.  But that doesn’t mean we can give up.  In fact, the more we stick to it in the face of danger, the more we show people the power of Christ.

Courage

God – I’m a coward.  I know it.  You know it.  Help me to step into the places you call me to, despite the danger.  Don’t let my fear be the reason the Kingdom doesn’t advance.  Help me to remember that the harder the task, the more I need to rely on you.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s the point.

<comments are open, feel free to add your own prayer for courage>