would you recognize Jesus if you grew up with him?

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, different

I don’t get home very often these days.  When I was in college and graduate school I would go home for the holidays, but thanks to something called “work” I just don’t have that luxury anymore.  Now I grew up in a small town.  (It was a great place to grow up, despite having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school.  But that’s another story.)  Even as a kid I always knew I’d be leaving.  There weren’t many jobs for an aspiring psychologist.  There still aren’t.  Such is the life of a small town.

Each time I went back home, I couldn’t help but notice something: the more I change, the less my home town recognizes it.  When I walk into my old church, or run into my old friends, they see me as the person I was.

I have changed in countless ways since I lived in that small town.  Yet when I go back, I am viewed as that shy, awkward teenager that left.  For them it’s hard to see what I’ve done with my life.

My guess is you have a similar story.  The people you grew up with see you as someone you really aren’t.  You might see this play out in your high school or college reunions.  You might even see this with your family.  They want to see you as someone different, but they just can’t quite wrap their mind around the fact that you are no longer “little Sally.”  (Especially since your name isn’t Sally.)

Jesus faced something similar.  When he went back to the small town he grew up in, people couldn’t quite get their minds around who he was.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  (Mark 6: 2-3)

They saw him as the carpenter’s kid.  Not as God.  “And they took offense at him.”

Here the people who should have known Jesus the best, were the ones who ended up knowing him the least.  They were upset that Jesus was claiming to be God.  (A natural reaction by Jews who believed in only one God – going around claiming you were God was a crime in that culture).  But instead of taking time to re-evaluate their opinions, they just went with their old assumptions.  And they missed out on seeing the change.

The same will be true for you.  As you move closer to Jesus, your life will transform.  But people you don’t talk to regularly will miss that change.  They will want to see you as they’ve always seen you.  That represents a challenge for us.  For one it makes it easier for us to fall into our old habits.  But it also means people aren’t getting to see the best testimony to God’s existence – the changes in your life.

Sadly, it’s often easier to ignore change if it means you need to reevaluate your views.

the shocking comparison of Jesus

Category : God, Jesus, bible, living a life of faith, revolutionary

Loving your enemy and not judging are forever linked.  If it’s your job to judge, you can never love.  You have to worry about fairness, outcomes, and justice.  Fortunately it’s God’s job to worry about that.  It’s his responsibility to judge and ensure justice.  We don’t need to worry about outcomes, so we can focus on our job: loving our enemies.

Loving your enemy is “advanced” – it requires faith, a trust in God’s character, hope in the eternal future, and obedience in the presence of an enemy.  It requires all of that to show the world just how different Christ’s compassion is.

It’s no wonder we struggle so much with it.

I am reminded of this as I read Elton John saying Jesus was gay.  Why did he say this?  Who knows.  I guess he just wanted to declare it.  Or maybe he just wanted to get some publicity by inciting Christians to attack him.  But frankly that’s not the most shocking part of that story – instead I was struck by the condescending nature of the article itself and commenter’s.

The condescension dripped from their “virtual pens.”

There is such a chasm between Christian beliefs and the rest of the world that it can be hard to come to terms with.  Especially for us Christians who tend to think everyone sees the world the same way we do.  Of course I think this is an opportunity.  I am convinced that Christians are living in one of the greatest evangelistic times in history.  What better way to compare just what Christ taught when we live in a world awash of other views.  Talk about a contrast!

Of course the challenge is to live out a life of faith.  Something we, as a church, tend to do very, very poorly.

While I think apologetics are important, I think what truly converts someone’s heart is when they see someone living out a life of faith.  That contrast is so shocking compared to others.  Take for instance someone who continues to give to the church despite struggling to pay bills.  That’s a shocking comparison to how the world says we should operate.

Consider Mother Teresa who lived in poverty to love on people who were deemed as unlovable.  That’s a shocking comparison.  Or consider people who sell everything they have to become missionaries because they feel called to provide medical services to people in third world nations.  Or what about people who take time out of their busy schedules to tutor at-risk children and to forge relationships across race and age.

These things are a shocking comparison.  And I think it’s the only thing that speaks to modern society’s heart.

Yes apologetics are needed to deepen your faith, but in a world of “if it feels good it must be right,” apologetics alone aren’t going to impress anyone.

God’s sovereign reign

Category : God, bible, faith, sin

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “God’s sovereign reign.”  I can’t stand it when people start using that phrase.  Now I believe that God is in control.  And I believe that he’s the boss (not Tony Danza).  So in theory I have nothing against this phrase.  The problem is, when someone says, “God’s sovereign reign” what they really mean is “God just caused that bad thing to happen.”

This is their way of saying, “well God’s in control, so he must have a plan for wiping out all those people in a flood.”  Some people even go so far as to say that God has predetermined who is going to heaven and hell.  Predetermined as in “before you were even born.”

But I don’t buy any of that.

Why?  Because if it was “God’s sovereign plan” for disaster to strike and suffering to occur, why is God so upset?  You don’t see architects bemoaning the fact that their building is being built according to the blueprints.  You don’t see parents upset when their children are listening to their commands.

You see people upset when things aren’t working out.  When things don’t go according to plan.

Now it’s possible that I’m just not seeing the big picture.  That there’s something more going on behind the scenes that I just don’t have access too.  That was kind of the point of Job.

But for the vast majority of disasters I don’t think God is lurking in the shadows waiting to strike you down with cancer or unleashing tsunamis to destroy unrepentant villages.

Frankly I think all the disasters and suffering is a result of sin.  And sin is entirely outside of God’s plan.  God never wanted Adam & Eve to sin.  And he doesn’t want us to sin.  If sin was part of his plan, why did Jesus need to die sinless?  Which, of course, he did.

God is so brilliant at adjusting to our stupidity that it makes it look like it’s all part of his plan.  But God never wanted you to suffer.  God never wanted you to feel brokenness.  That was never part of his plan.   So don’t let someone tell you otherwise.

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.

i am what i am, or am i?

Category : God, bible, different, faith

One of the most powerful moments in the Bible is when God reveals his name to Moses.  He simply says, “I AM”.

A lot of powerful things are happening in this I AM statement.  For one, just using that name just how confident (in a good way) God is.  These two words reveal a lot about God’s personality.  It’s like James Bond saying, “Bond.  James Bond.”  It’s a name you know you shouldn’t forget.  And just like Bond, it’s a powerful name.  It also shows that God is relaxed and comfortable with himself.  It’s a Mr. Miyagi style, soft-spoken, yet powerful voice.  You can almost hear the shrug of comfortableness saying, “I AM…there is no other way to name me.”

It’s a Popeye-like moment.  I am what I am.

It’s as if God is saying, “I always have been and I always will be.  I don’t need a name, because I just am.”

Compare this to how many of us live our lives under the philosophy of, “am I?”  We question everything about who we are, what our purpose is, what kind of life we should live.  We even wonder if we need to eat our vegetables.  We just aren’t sure of ourselves.  And we most certainly aren’t confident in our identities.  Isn’t that the whole point of childhood?  We grow up, slowly learning who we are.  Isn’t that the pain of the mid life crisis?  When we confront the reality that who we thought we were isn’t actually true.

How fundamentally different we are from God.

This point (I AM vs am I?, not the one about vegetables) was made to me in a small group I am in.  It’s something I have never considered before.  But it’s such a profound and striking difference it’s hard not to be stopped by it.

“I AM” is both powerful and subtle, which sounds a lot like God.  It’s no wonder he chose that name for himself.

focusing on obedience to God

Category : God, Jesus, bible, faith, taking action

Things are rushing these days.  I’m trying to juggle a new job, volunteering opportunities at my local church, writing opportunities (both for R3 and a book I’m working on), and most importantly a wedding.  Yes, that’s right; I got engaged over the holidays.

Which brings me to obedience.

Because so much is going on I need to streamline my life.  I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.  But I wanted to try something new.  (Although I’m still not doing a New Year’s Resolution!)  I think God has a lot of things he’d like me accomplish, and to do that, I need to be organized.

So I’ve decided to identify four words that will define my 2010.  The first three revolve around productivity / work / scheduling / time.  But the fourth one, the most important one, is all about faith.

And, in case you haven’t guessed already, that word is obedience.

I want 2010 to be fully focused on God.  I want to be obedient in an intentional way I haven’t been before.  Sure I’ve been thinking about this word for a while now.  As you can see from the R3 post called the miracle of obedience.  I’ve even given talks focusing on what it means to be obedient.  But I’ve never tried to fully live it out, consistently, in all things.

That’s scary just saying that out loud!  Truth be told, I like my rebellion.  But all things must come to an end.

Which brings us to Mary…

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

This is the only time in the entire Bible Mary gives a command.  (thanks to Erwin McManus for pointing that out).  Locally she’s speaking to the servants at the party.  But it applies directly to us too.   As I wrote a few days ago, the servants didn’t question what Jesus was doing (something that surely was crazy), they just did it.  They filled up giant containers of water that must have weighed hundreds of pounds (which was a lot of work without forklifts or running water.)

Through their obedience Jesus performed his first miracle.

Which makes me wonder, what miracles will he perform through my obedience?  What about yours?

hands in the mouth

Category : God, bible, faith, revolutionary

I went to the dentist today.  I can now say, “look mom, no cavities!”  For which I am very grateful.  But I was struck by how odd it is to sit in a chair and pay someone to stick their hands in your mouth.  What a strange society we live in these days.

Sometimes you hear the Bible (or Christianity in general) criticized because it doesn’t meet with our sensibilities.  Although there are many examples, a common one I hear is that “they weren’t as ‘progressive’ as we are towards women, therefore we should reject the Bible.”

But if you told a person from Jesus’ time that you pay someone to stick their hands in your mouth, they would think you were insane.  (And let’s face it, they aren’t that far off!)

You see, context is king.  We have people poke around our mouths because it prevents us from losing our teeth.  While the people of 2000 years ago may not have been as “progressive” as we are today, Christianity was on the cutting edge in the context of the day.  Find me a religion where women play a more important role.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

You can’t.  Because it doesn’t exist.

God was ahead of the curve.  So what makes you think he’s not ahead of the curve today?

Context matters.

the miracle of obedience

1

Category : John, bible, faith, living a life of faith, miracles, taking action

What happens when someone asks you to do something unexpected?  Do you do it, no questions asked?  Or, are you more likely to roll your eyes?  If you’re really dramatic you might act like a certain 4 year old I know who likes to jump up and down and throw a temper tantrum.

Most of us don’t like to do things without knowing all the details.  We want answers to who, what, when, where and most importantly, why.  But maybe we need to reevaluate that.  Because Jesus pretty much never explained any of his miracles up front.  In almost every case before a miracle happened someone needed to act on faith first.

That’s how it was with Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine.

As the John describes the miracle, Jesus doesn’t really explain what he’s about to do.  There isn’t a 5 minute meeting to get everyone on the same page.  Jesus doesn’t send out a Facebook update saying, “I’m about to turn this water into wine.”  Instead this is how the Bible describes these events…

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’”

No explanations up front.  Just an expectation of obedience.  Can you imagine what the servants were thinking?  “This guy is cracked.  And worse we’re going to get in trouble with the master.  Aren’t we going to look like idiots when we get up there and hand this guy some water!”

Despite their doubts, they were obedient.  And because of that, they witnessed Jesus’ first miracle.

But so many of Jesus’ miracles worked like this.  People were healed only after they believed.  Some friends believed in Jesus’ power so much they cut a hole in someone’s roof to lower their friend down to Jesus.  A woman believed in Jesus so much that she was willing to risk death to just brush against Jesus’ clothes.

They had no promises, no status updates, and no guarantees.  They just knew that when Jesus said to believe, they should believe.

One of the biggest challenges facing the modern Christian is the view that miracles don’t happen.  I’m not surprised at this.  We live in a cynical age where nothing is taken on face value.  While that may protect us from internet scams and cause us to celebrate public failures of stars and athletes, it makes a poor way to develop a relationship with a loving God.

When I look at the ministry of Jesus I see a bunch of people who missed out on the greatest moment in human history.  Not because they couldn’t understand what was happening.  Not because they weren’t smart enough to figure it out.  And not because they weren’t’ “good people.”  But because they couldn’t stop asking questions.  Instead of acting, they simply stood by wondering what Jesus was up to.

The people who missed out on Jesus were the ones standing on the sideline constantly wondering what this Jesus guy was up to.  The irony is the people who didn’t worry about all that were the ones who experienced the fullness of who Jesus is.

Maybe we should ask fewer questions and spend more time being obedient.  Maybe then we’d see a few more miracles.

how far we’ve come

Category : bible, choice, faith, living a life of faith, reader comments, taking action

It’s hard to believe that R3 is entering its 4th year!  (well technically “calendar year,” R3’s anniversary is in a few months).  I never dreamed that I had enough to say to generate three posts a week.  I find it amazing that I can do that.  But that’s not the only thing that makes this 4th year so remarkable.  It wasn’t that long ago that blogging didn’t exist.

Think about that one for a while!

The internet has been a great technology for growing people’s relationships with God.  There is no other technology that allows someone to write in their spare time in Kansas but influence Christians in Australia, Indonesia, or even China.  Or someone from Africa to influence people in Europe or America.  The internet has had a profound impact on living a life of faith.

While religion blogging is dominated by several “big name” bloggers there has been more than enough room for smaller writers to develop a community.  There are so many talented writers that I could spend an entire day simply surfing the internet reading.  Now if only someone would pay me to do that…

But blogging isn’t the only change.

How we study the Bible has also changed.  I can easily pull up Bible verses and do keyword searches online.  If you own an iPhone you can download Bible apps and get the same thing.  Never before has the Bible been so easy to access.  While I still read a paper version of the Bible every day, I rarely use it for quick searches or to look things up.  It just takes too long.  Digital is the way to go.

And still there is more change.

Even the way we do Bible studies is different.  There are online studies on hundreds of topics.  Churches are giving away much of their own materials away for free.  And now there are “social sites” popping up like EXAMEN.me.  All dedicated to providing high quality Bible studies and devotionals.

There has never been a better time to learn about living out a life of faith.  There has never been a time where so much has been available to so many.  And I, for one, can’t wait to see what the future holds.

As we go into the New Year, here is my challenge to you: find a new way to study the Bible and follow it for the next 30 days.  As you go through it, come back here and let us know how it’s going (I’m opening up the comments).  Did it work?  Was it a disaster?  Did it revolutionize your life?

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?