What about John?

Category : choice, faith

One of my favorite stories in the Bible happens at the end of John.  Jesus has been resurrected.  The disciples know he’s truly God.  And they are all ecstatic.  When Jesus meets Peter and John (and a few other disciples) while they are fishing, Peter is so excited he jumps out of the boat and runs / swims to get to Jesus.

This is typical Peter – who does pretty much everything with action followed by thought.

Fortunately that’s not something God discourages.  In fact, it’s part of what makes Peter so much like you and me.  We often act and then only later say, “oh yeah, that third slice of cake probably wasn’t a good idea.”

When Peter finally gets to shore, Jesus asks him three times, “do you love me more than all the others.”  Peter says “yes” three times.  This is Jesus’ way of saying to Peter that he has been restored for denying Jesus three times.

Peter’s reward?

Jesus tells him that he’ll be executed as a martyr.  Now that’s probably not exactly what Peter wanted to hear.  Because as soon as Jesus says this, the Bible tells us that Peter looks around, and says, “what about John?”

Jesus’ response is simple, “who are you to question this?”

That’s a response that resonates with all of us.  Although probably painfully.  Frankly I don’t want to suffer.  And I don’t want to suffer alone.  And if I have to suffer alone I sure as heck want to know why!  But with God, we don’t really get all the answers to questions like that.  Our role, the role of the faithful, isn’t to question before we act, it’s to listen and then act.

God doesn’t mind our questions.  He often answers them (only a short time earlier Jesus let Thomas feel his wounds so that he would believe.)  But there are many times when God never fills us in on the details.  He never told Job why he had to suffer.  He never fully explains to Adam and Eve why eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a bad idea.

Sometimes God wants us to be impulsive.  He wants us to jump out of the boat and walk on water (or swim through water).  But mostly he wants us to trust him enough to not ask, “what about John?”

is it okay to question God?

Category : God, choice, faith

If you follow football at all, you’ve already heard about the “drop heard around the world.”  During last week’s Steelers – Bills game, Stevie Johnson, dropped a sure touchdown for the Bills.  In fact, it would have dramatically won the game in over time.  In all my years of watching football, rarely have I seen a wide receiver drop such a sure catch.

Immediately after the game, I heard both journalists and Steelers players give the usual it was a “miracle” talk.  And say things like, “God helped us”.  Maybe that’s true.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure how often God gets involved in football.  (Although I certainly don’t mind if he’s a Steelers fan.)

After the game the Bills receiver (Johnson) had a different reaction.  He tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!  AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”

That tweet immediately went around the internets, and turned up in stories headlined things like “Bills receiver blames God for drop.

But that’s not how I see it.  (And I’m not sure that’s how Stevie Johnson would see it.)  I don’t even see him blaming God at all.  I see a young guy (24) who is really questioning his faith.  When I was 24 I was a hard-core atheist.  So it seems to me that Johnson has a bit over me when I was his age.

People who don’t believe in God love these stories because it “proves” God doesn’t exist.  At the same time Christians who fear undermining God hate these stories because it seems to question God’s goodness.

Which means that it’s a perfect storm to get news headlines.

But for me it reminds me of my own experiences with God.  As I said, when I was 24 I didn’t believe in God.  Not long after I began to question everything about God and my life.  It was out of that immense pain and suffering that I turned to him, realizing he was the only thing complete enough to heal me.  That’s what I hear in that tweet.  Someone who is just looking for how God can be loving, but at the same time let such painful things happen to us.

In the end, I don’t mind Stevie Johnson’s comments, whether he blames God or not.  I think honest searching for answers always brings us closer to God.  Which is what he wants in the first place!  So my prayer is that Johnson does learn from his drop and let’s God redeem this experience.  I don’t know how.  But God’s a master at redeeming things.  And that’s enough for me.  I hope it’s enough for Johnson.

David & Bathsheba

Category : David, choice

David was a great and mighty ruler.  He had always passionately and actively followed God.  Even when it cost him a great deal (he had to hide in a cave for a long time because he refused to kill the man who was trying to kill him).  That desire to follow God, and the fact that David was a man of action is what led David to the throne of Israel.

He ruled justly for a long time.  That is, until one day, when he decided to give up his kingly duties (going off to war with his soldiers) and instead stay behind in the comfort of the palace.

It’s during that time when David met Bathsheba. Or more accurately watched her bathing on the roof, had an affair with her, got her pregnant, and then killed her husband to hide the whole thing. (It was a busy couple of days.)

David risked everything including his relationship with God, because he was being passive and not pursuing his kingly duties. If he had been active, if he had followed his responsibilities, none of this would have happened.

While David did many things and accomplished a lot, he nearly blew it.  Because in one instance, he chose to sit back and remain passive, rather than actively follow God.

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. Photo provided by flickr user whalt.

a skeptical view of god

Category : God, choice, sin

Some people don’t believe in God.  I know, I know, you’re shocked by that, right?  People give lots of reasons for not believing.  But for today I want to focus on just one: religion is not science.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently.  You hear arguments left and right about how science is objective, religion isn’t.  The reasoning goes that because you can “prove” science, then it’s free from bias.

As I watch the whole Global Warming is man made story begin to unravel in the news, I’m reminded that science may be free from bias, but humans are not.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that much of the research supporting global warming was made up at worst, or “manipulated” at best.

But this isn’t the first time someone has made up research.  And it won’t be the last time.

Now this isn’t a post about Global Warming and how we should respond.  God very clearly calls us to be good stewards for the planet, and I don’t think any Christian, regardless of their political leanings, can claim that we’re getting an A+ on that one.

What this post is about is human folly.  The fact that our pride can so blind us that we can’t even see our own hypocrisy.  Of course we don’t need a scientific scandal to prove that.  We’re pretty good at being hypocrites on a daily basis.

Sin impacts everything we do.  Whether it’s loving our families or conducting scientific research.  None of us are immune to sin.

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?

an R3 kind of Christmas

Category : choice, different, humor, just for fun, living a life of faith

As we begin to wind down 2009, I want the last few posts of the year to be a bit light-hearted. Life is stressful. We all tend to work long hours. We have hundreds (seemingly) of things going on all the time. We rarely get days off (if you’re lucky enough to have a job).

Everything seems to move at warp speed.

So for this Christmas I encourage you to spend quality, focused, time with your friends and family. Enjoy their company and the community you have. Use this as an opportunity to show what it means to live a life of faith, not by preaching Bible verses, but by being there when they need you.

In the meantime, check out this video. I think we can all wish this was our house growing up…

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.

problems don’t last forever

Category : Daneil, God, choice, hope, sin, trust

“His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor.  In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.” (Daniel 11:20)

Why is it that the weekend flies by, but the work week takes forever?  Why do we find sitting through a lecture painful, but watching a movie easy?  Why does vacation come and go when our daily commute takes so long?

Unless someone has mastered time travel (if so, please let me know) then all of these things can be explained by one simple word: perception.

Perception is that finicky thing that changes our reality.  It makes us believe something has happened when it hasn’t.  It makes us hot when we should be cold, and cold when we should be hot (this is why you say “boy it’s hot” when it’s 50 degrees outside in February, but not when it’s 50 in August).

Perception can be a major obstacle to our faith.

Perception may tell us that we can never change, that nothing good will ever happen, and we will be stuck “here” forever.

We are most vulnerable to these tricks when we are suffering.  We somehow know that “all good things must come to an end” and “it’s too good to last”.  We even have clichés devoted to them.  But when it comes to pain and suffering we often forget that those things don’t last either.

This was true in Israel’s case.

After centuries of not listening to God, Israel finally found themselves overwhelmed by a powerful enemy (Babylon).  As part of their punishment for losing the war, many of their most highly educated men were taken captive to become slaves (this is what happened to Daniel).  While most of the women and children were just outright murdered.

Many Jews simply couldn’t believe this was happening.  They were God’s chosen people.  They had been set free from captivity already.  How could they be going back?!  They never really thought God would let something like this happen to them.  Although if they had paid attention to prophets like Jeremiah, they would have figured it out.

But nothing lasts forever.  At least not in this world.

And I think God was reminding them of this.  In the story of Daniel, God simply slipped two sentences into the conversation.  Gently saying, “you will see tax collectors gathering money for a powerful kingdom, but even in the midst of that, their country will fall apart.”

Not even captivity lasts forever.

That was a lesson that the Jews needed to remember.  Because they were going to spend a long, long time in captivity.  They had to know that there was hope.  They had to remember who to hope in.  Those were things they had forgotten.

Bad things don’t last forever.  Maybe we need to remember that from time to time.

the logic of a life of faith

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

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“One day I realized there was no God, no one behind reality, no life after death. I realized existence is a meaningless accident, begun by chance and destined for oblivion, and it changed my life. I used to be addicted to alcohol but now the ‘law of natural selection’ has set me free. I used to be greedy, but now the story of the Big Bang has made me generous. I used to be afraid, but now random chance has made me brave.” - John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt

This, tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek quote from John Ortberg illustrates something I’ve been thinking about the last couple of weeks: reasoned thinking.  I recognize this isn’t any great revelation, but as a society we have seemingly abandoned reason and logic.  On the one hand this can be good.  Pure reason and pure logic can lead us to cold and unmerciful decisions.  Playing the “odds” can dehumanize problems.  It can take human suffering and tragedy and make it a statistical anomaly.  Isn’t that the point of the Borg in Star Trek?

But I think there is more to logic and reason.

I’ve been a fan of Greg Koukl and Stand to Reason for a few years now.  Their biggest teaching effort is in “clear thinking.”  By that they mean teaching people to think logically about problems.  And since I’ve been listening to the Stand to Reason podcast, I am utterly shocked at how few world views really apply logic across their beliefs.

There are perhaps no worse places for this then watching children’s TV shows.  Which, I suppose, is another post all together!

Stories are powerful movers to a human.  How many of you immediately picked up on my Borg reference?  Did it not create an immediately concrete image in what it means for logic to run amuck?  It’s not a coincidence that politicians spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to create a story for the public to hear.  TV ads don’t sell facts to us, they sell experiences and lifestyles.  We, as people, fall for stories.  And that can be a good thing.  Even God uses stories to illustrate what it means to live out a life of faith.  It’s called the Bible.

Ravi Zacharias has commented that if stories are powerful on their own, think of the power they have as a culture.

Every day we are given competing world views.  Every day we are told that the way to happiness lies through sex, drugs, wealth, and power.  That’s a view that is logically inconsistent with what God teaches.  Someone has to be wrong.  Both world views can’t be right.

This brings us back to Ortberg’s quote from his book Faith and Doubt.  Why is it, that you don’t hear quotes like this from naturalists?  If there is no life after death, and there is only randomness and chance, how do we ever have hope in anything?  How can we believe that something good can happen?  How do we break free from the grips of alcoholism if it ultimately doesn’t matter?

I believe it goes back to logical consistency.  Most of us don’t want to follow the logical consequences of our beliefs.  Atheists want morality because it’s convenient and offers protection.  But morality is impossible to explain if there is no God.  Because you’ll never be able to overcome the argument of “might makes right.”

Believer want the blessing, protection and hope that God provides.  Yet we often aren’t willing to count the cost.  We don’t want to follow the logic of what it means to live out a life of faith.

The world is filled with world views that don’t make sense.  We are inundated with views that contradict themselves but no one seems to notice.  No one is immune to problems of logic.

But what good is a world view if you don’t apply it consistently?  What good is believing in God if you don’t live that way?

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.